5 Ways Alcohol Fools Your Brain


If you drink alcohol, have you ever noticed how that first drink can make you loosen up a little, and after the second one, you’re practically a stand-up comedian? But… a little while later, your tongue starts getting heavy, you trip over your own feet, and that person across the room you thought might be interested in you is clearly unimpressed. Then the next day you wake up bleary-eyed and thirsty, with a pounding headache.

Sounds like fun…NOT!

How Alcohol Plays Tricks on the Brain and Mind

As soon as you start sipping alcohol, it enters your bloodstream and moves through your organs. And, because it’s in your blood, it can cross the blood brain barrier and get into your brain cells, where it starts to affect your thoughts, emotions, movements, and sensory functions.

Many people find that having a few drinks helps them to unwind and become more social, which is why after an hour or so of drinking most people become more animated. It’s not so much that their hidden personalities have emerged, rather it has much more to do with how alcohol plays tricks on the brain and makes us think differently and do things we might not normally do.

Here are 5 ways booze outsmarts your brain—regardless of how intelligent you are!

1. You forget your future.

Your prefrontal cortex (PFC) is the part of your brain that is your personal CEO. It’s involved with really important things like judgment, insight, empathy, forethought, and impulse control. When you drink, the reason you can’t think clearly is because all of these functions are diminished, which then makes it easier for you to:

  • Disregard or forget about the consequences of your actions
  • Say and do stupid things that you’re going to regret
  • Feel happier, angrier, or more emotional than normal

When your decision-making process is impaired, you’re more likely to ignore the ramifications of your behavior as well as the price you’re going to have to pay down the road for doing things you wish you hadn’t.

2. You feel invincible.

Alcohol tricks your basal ganglia—the brain’s idle—that normally helps you maintain a healthy level of anxiety to prevent you from hurting yourself. When the function of this part of your brain slows down, you’re more likely to throw caution to the wind and engage in riskier and more dangerous behavior that could be potentially harmful, such as doing something that might cause a concussion or other type of injury with potentially long-term consequences.

3. You think you’re a really good dancer.

While you’re out there cutting a rug and having a grand ol’ time, your cerebellum is likely to trip you up—literally. This is the part of the brain involved with coordination and reflexes, but booze makes both of these functions slow down and you’re more likely to lose your balance and stumble. You’ll want to hope no one is recording your smooth moves on the dance floor.

4. You fall in love easily.

The euphoria you experience after a drink or two comes from an initial surge of brain chemicals, like dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins that help you feel happy and good. When you combine this with the loss of inhibition from lower PFC function, you’re less likely to be using your best judgment about a potential partner. Plus alcohol helps you think you’re a studmuffin, however, your performance won’t match your mindset, because alcohol actually slows your sexual response system.

5. You had a great time but can’t remember most of it.

Your hippocampus is like a memory bank; it’s where memories are recorded. When you drink, this part of your brain also starts to go offline, and the more alcohol you consume, the less you’ll be able to recall the details of the night. Excessive drinking can even cause almost complete amnesia about the events from the night prior. What is the point of having a fun evening with friends if you’re going to forget what happened?

Alcohol Is Not a Health Food

Although drinking alcohol is part of many cultures around the world, the health consequences of heavy alcohol consumption can be very serious. According to The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, it can lead to:

  • Heart diseases
  • Liver diseases
  • Pancreatitis
  • Numerous types of cancer
  • Brain problems—including depression and dementia

Alcohol is essentially toxic to our bodies and brains, and while occasionally imbibing a small amount is not likely to cause harm for most adults (unless they are in recovery or are allergic to it), drinking regularly can definitely take a toll on you.

In addition to the risk of addiction, the more alcohol a person uses, the greater the chance for long-term damage to the brain and body. Despite what some people tout about the benefits of drinking, alcohol is definitely NOT a health food. It is absolutely possible to go to parties and social events without imbibing and still have a great time. Being able to stay in full control of your faculties, and not having to worry about embarrassing yourself is definitely well worth it.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction or another mental health issue, it’s important to get support and treatment.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

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  1. Yes I agree! Breast cancer is not worth it!

    Comment by Sabrina — June 22, 2021 @ 5:51 PM

  2. Love your work Dr Amen! Best decision I made 4 years ago to give up this poison. Every single aspect of my life has improved in this time. Keep spreading the truth. 👍

    Comment by Brett — June 25, 2021 @ 3:12 AM

  3. I’m paying the price of my addiction to alcohol. I have cirrhosis from alcoholism. I am also 18mths sober.

    Comment by Danielle — June 25, 2021 @ 3:22 AM

  4. In rebellion against the tyranny of unjustified traditions demanding it I always refused to drink and find “drink in moderation” a cowardly accommodation to society telling us how to live without having earned the authority to do so out of righteous rebellion. Drinking has nothing redeeming to offer.

    Comment by Robert Vincelette — June 25, 2021 @ 3:28 AM

  5. Just told my friend this yesterday when she was complaining about a romantic relationship with a man who drinks…I said, “Alcohol is toxic.” What a tragedy this poison is so socially acceptable, to the detriment of us all.

    Comment by Lisa Ann Greenfield — June 25, 2021 @ 3:40 AM

  6. This is so true. I smugly think that I am not an alcoholic but know that I crave a Prosecco or cold beer around 5 pm. I wake up every morning feeling lethargic and tired with brain fog, and swear to stop drinking. 5 o’clock comes round and my feelings of shame and exhaustion go straight out of the window. I run my own business and need to be alert, but just can’t seem to stop as it feels like a treat. I’m in my sixties as well and do feel like I have early dementia so know I have to stop. I live in the UK otherwise I would love to have one of your brain scans and have some help.

    Comment by Jayne — June 25, 2021 @ 3:55 AM

  7. Someone needs to do a correlation study to check on cancer rates after the pandemic. The office that did my biopsy confirmed I was their fifteenth positive patient in early April. STRESS is a HUGE factor!

    Comment by Michele — June 25, 2021 @ 4:06 AM

  8. I come from a European background and most times have a glass (occasionally once a week 2 glasses) of a still red wine with my dinner. So this is considered unhealthy for the brain (and body).

    Comment by Noelene — June 25, 2021 @ 4:44 AM

  9. What was left out of the discussion about alcohol is the largest and most successful group aiding those with alcoholism is AA!

    Comment by Bill — June 25, 2021 @ 5:34 AM

  10. I lost my 40 year old son to alcohol addiction in January. He was taking prescriptions for bipolar and depression. He had liver damage. I wish I had known he could suddenly die.

    Comment by Patricia — June 25, 2021 @ 5:47 AM

  11. Great article. Thank you. Only had a few drinks (about 10) in my entire life and none in the last nearly 50 years! Just don’t understand why people do it.

    Comment by Lin — June 25, 2021 @ 5:47 AM

  12. Thank you for the solid, expert information and for standing against cultural norms.

    Comment by Gretchen Potma — June 25, 2021 @ 6:49 AM

  13. I could not agree more! I’ve never understand why some people equalise having fun with alcohol…

    Comment by Annie — June 25, 2021 @ 7:09 AM

  14. Thank you so much for sharing Dr. Amen. People need to hear this message. I’ve been sober 32 years and became a Therapist and Chemical Dependency Counselor to help people learn about this horrendous disease. Iam also a Certified Trauma Therapist. I see the ravages that people suffer with on a daily basis. We must work together to help those who suffer!! Thank you again.

    Comment by Deborah — June 25, 2021 @ 7:18 AM

  15. Wonderful article and clearly so true. While I have had those ‘dancing shoes’ on in my life before. No more…my brain IS so much of my future!!! Thank you for sharing this wisdom!

    Comment by Bethany — June 25, 2021 @ 7:27 AM

  16. As a specialist in addiction medicine, I see daily the serious individual and public health consequences of alcohol abuse and its denial. But this presentation smacks of our “prohibition” like attitudes and the denial that one man’s food is another’s poison. It is not simply about alcohol and its toxic effects. Our own bodies produce alcohol in our colons. There are very important contextual factors that determine the benefits vs the risks of alcohol consumption. Its rate of change in blood levels as well as quantity and individual tolerance levels play a significant role in assessing the benefits vs the risks. Indeed, if someone is highly dependent on alcohol a sudden drop in consumption can be lethal! While there are equivalences of alcohol in wine, beer, hard liquor I find when measuring the benefits vs the risks it makes a big difference to consider the “context”. Some of the most advanced cultures of our world have used alcohol routinely as food and social/recreational lubricant and I am confident that some of the best art, innovations, let alone spiritual practices have included alcohol. Before modern advances it was one of the best disinfectants and agents for anesthesia, let alone for managing significant traumas. Yet, I repeat alcohol abuse whether licit or not remains one of our most significant public health concerns. Similarly, opioids are not good or bad, toxic or therapeutic, it depends! I expect less black and white type of thinking from those who are experts in brain health. Individual differences based on a host of contextual variables are obviously so important in assuring the best of brain health and human functioning. P.S. The discussion left off alcohol’s ability to interfere/interact with restorative sleep, other substances, weight management, as to just some other important consideration when assessing the benefits vs the risks of alcohol use.

    Comment by James K. Rotchford, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.S.A.M. — June 25, 2021 @ 8:38 AM

  17. Wow. Family members who are alcoholics. I was in 2 different relationships with drinkers. I rarely drink myself and don’t like being around people who are drinking a lot. Much respect for those that can beat it.

    Comment by Judi — June 25, 2021 @ 3:54 PM

  18. Why is it that all that is written out there as common knowledge about abuse of alcohol is liver being killed ,ie cirrhosis of the liver ? Of course the brain would be involved, the brain is in control of everything. My uncle was an alcoholic. I attended ALON and also ACOA. I did start and ACOA meeting. Alcoholism is a bad disease and runs in families. Fortunately neither of my parents drank other than very occasionally. The problem with the disease is that the behaviors that go along with the disease get past down too.

    Comment by Margaret B Platts — June 25, 2021 @ 10:38 PM

  19. Brain Scans need to be part of our physicals and covered by insurance!!!!! Maybe addictions could be caught earlier and save our healthcare systems $$$$$$
    We need to be a society of preventative health care NOT going to the docs AFTER we are sick!!!! However, we need more specialized testing like brain scans to educate people!!!! Brain scans should be basic care!!

    Comment by Kim Higgins — June 26, 2021 @ 5:48 AM

  20. I have had a few of my own patients succumb to alcoholism. Alcoholism is absolutely mind boggling. Once it grabs hold of a person it doesn’t let go and I don’t think a lot of people realize that, hence, they judge the addicted on, suggest that they “quit drinking”, they guilt the addicted one mercilessly, they use logic, suggesting it is easy – which makes the alcoholic feel even worse and feeds even more into the addiction. Alcoholism is not caused by mental illness, not caused by family problems, not caused by financial circumstances, poor self esteem, poor stress management or job loss, etc. Alcoholism is an “equal opportunity” poison. The alcoholic does not choose to be alcoholic. Smart people die of alcoholism. Despite knowing their bodies and minds are failing them, they continue. However there is help, qualified help available. Please just try to empathize, not judge or criticize, search your community, ask around to find effective resources. There are Intensive Outpatient Programs, Residential programs. Detox is not enough, but a start. Get plugged into AA and Alanon. A medical and psychiatric assessment is essential. Individual/Family therapy is a must to put the alcoholic’s life back together. Thank you Dr Amen for your article and what you do.

    Comment by David — June 26, 2021 @ 6:35 AM

  21. Thank you for this article. I quite drinking alcohol 27 years ago at 23 years old. I participated in a lot of binge drinking while in college at ASU and it really took a toll on my health, my decision making, and my life. I have never regretted giving up alcohol. But I regretted drinking too much of it way too many times. Now at 50 I see so many people suffering physically from a lifetime of heavy drinking and even casual drinking.

    Comment by Christy — June 26, 2021 @ 8:13 AM

  22. I had no idea! My son has been in ICU and unconscious for a week detoxing and with pancreatitis. Parts of his pancreas have died. He is only 42.

    Comment by Sharon — June 26, 2021 @ 8:56 AM

  23. Dr. Amen please consider doing one of these on cannabis. There is so much hype in the media right now, but little about the true impact of regular long term use.

    Thanks for this great explanation on alcohol and how it impacts the body.

    Comment by Steff Roberts — June 26, 2021 @ 12:50 PM

  24. No question about the real seriousness of alcohol consumption, and the destructive outcomes that can come from it: physical ones, mental ones, serious health issues, etc. But doesn’t tolerance to alcohol vary greatly from person to person? Not everyone goes to medical or mental rack and ruin because at 5 PM each day they have a beer before dinner. Right? It is definitely true that there are people for whom even that one beer, or one appropriately modest sized glass of wine, before dinner, and no more, will indeed turn out to be total hell on some mental, physical, or health aspect of their lives. But isn’t it equally true that these kinds of truly dire outcomes (cancer, premature death, etc.) are hardly the result of low level of alcohol consumption for most people. Right? Very few people have one medium glass of wine and forget their, future, become certain they can dance like Michael Jackson, become enraged, feel they are nvincible, or totally forget what happened last night. Those are serious, crazy bad outcomes. But one beer rarely produces any of these except for a few people.

    Comment by David — June 26, 2021 @ 3:37 PM

  25. A big part of the problem with alcohol consumption is the idea of “safe drinking levels”. Real understanding of the potential harm that drinking alcohol can do to you is much more difficult and complicated than most people think.
    There is a strong tendency for people to “convert” safe daily drinking levels (2 or 3 units of alcohol per day for a woman or 3 or 4 units per day for a man) to weekly totals, which is a bad and misleading idea.
    In reality, alcohol is a poison and your liver and kidneys have to remove it from your body after you drink it. This takes time, so that after you drink alcohol your body needs an alcohol free break to “clean” itself. Any level of continuous drinking is likely to be harmful to your body so if you drink the recommended limit one day you need to stay alcohol free for a day or two afterwards to give your body chance to “clean up” (not 7 days per week of the daily limit).
    I know from experience (I,m a retired alcohol counsellor) that this is hard to get across to drinkers but it needs to be made clear to the general public to reduce alcohol problems !!!

    Comment by James (Jim) Barnett — June 26, 2021 @ 11:35 PM

  26. I don’t understand what ‘s wrong with drinking vine with a meal. I am in an Mediterranean country all my life and people are mostly trinking half or even one liter with a meal and nobody is trunk or “funny “. I personally don’t trink alcohol because I hate the taste. So what is the difference with Mediterranean Trinker and American Trinker? I would very much appreciate an explanation. Thanks


    Comment by Margarete — June 27, 2021 @ 6:46 AM

  27. Today there was a Memorial service in Orange Beach for Stacy who was killed by a Drunk Driver. She was on her way home from work when a 27 yr old DRUNK killed her. A 55 yr old vivacious lady who was a Veteran & friend to all. MADD

    Comment by Patricia — June 27, 2021 @ 3:42 PM

  28. I also have bipolar, I have been diagnosed at 18. I was forced to be Hospitalized for three because of my extreme manic state. I’m 42 now and been on medication and still drink on the weekends. I’m having a really hard time stopping. I have tried AA. I really want to stop. Dr. Amen thank you so much for what you. I have read four of your books and your my hero. Stay strong everyone.

    Comment by Daniel Carpenter — June 28, 2021 @ 3:17 AM

  29. Is it a good idea to just send your article to someone who MAY have an issue with Alcohol and is POSSIBLY in denial?
    How would one know if someone is having alcohol issues?

    Comment by SIm Last — June 28, 2021 @ 2:52 PM

  30. Hello, thank you for your comment. We have published research on the effects of marijuana on brain health, here is more information: https://amenclinics.com/blog/amen-research-marijuana-affects-blood-flow-brain/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — June 28, 2021 @ 2:54 PM

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