So, How Does Alcohol Affect Your Brain?


Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways and can affect the way the brain appears and functions.

Alcohol makes it harder for the areas controlling balance, memory, speech, and judgment to do their jobs, resulting in a higher likelihood of injuries and other negative outcomes.

Long term heavy drinking causes alterations in the neurons, such as reductions in their size.

Below are a few key topics related to alcohol and how the brain is impacted by its effects.

If you or a loved one is suffering through alcohol addiction, seek medical advice from your primary care physician.

Treating severe cases of alcoholism can be dangerous and often requires medical supervision; please consider visiting an inpatient alcohol rehab program.

Understanding Alcohol’s Journey Through the Brain


For healthy adults, a moderate amount of alcohol typically means no more than one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.

While drinking in moderation might have certain benefits, overdoing it or binge drinking brings no health advantages at all.

Alcohol acts as a neurotoxin that interferes with the brain’s communication pathways.

It can alter the operations of neurons which may result in intellectual decline, headaches, loss of memory, slow thinking, difficulty speaking, issues maintaining balance, and coordination.

Excessive alcohol use can harm your nervous system leading to numbness, pain in hands and feet, seizures, even dementia.

Alcohol’s Impact on Neurotransmitter Function and Mental Health

Indeed, there’s a link between alcohol consumption and memory loss.

The more prolonged and excessive the alcohol abuse is, the greater the chance of experiencing some form of memory impairment.

Intense levels of drinking can lead to significant and long lasting memory issues.

This may involve struggling to recall events from just the previous night or even an entire evening’s happenings.

Prolonged heavy drinking might also result in dementia, which entails irreversible memory loss.

Alcohol interferes with how your brain processes information from short term to long term storage, hence your long term memory doesn’t get the memo about what happened.

This missing out is among the numerous impacts that alcohol has on one’s ability to remember.

Certainly stopping alcohol intake can enhance your memory but don’t expect instant fixes.

It takes time, similar to how damage wasn’t done in a single night of drinking, it won’t be undone with just one sober night.

Recovery could span from six months up to a year before notable improvements in your memory start showing up.

Alcohol’s Effects on Brain Plasticity and Cognitive Function

You might think of alcohol as a way to cope with tough emotions like sadness, stress, or anxiety.

The idea of reducing your alcohol intake or quitting altogether could be daunting.

However, using alcohol as a crutch for mental health issues can lead to further problems.

Alcohol acts as a depressant and messes with the neurotransmitters in your brain that are responsible for how you feel, think, and act.

This disruption can have significant effects on your mood.

When you drink alcohol, it impacts the part of your brain responsible for inhibitions, initially making you feel more relaxed and confident.

Yet this feeling is fleeting.

Soon after drinking, the changes in brain chemistry may cause negative emotions like anger or anxiety to surface, regardless of how you felt before drinking.

Over time heavy use of alcohol depletes important neurotransmitters that help keep depression and anxiety at bay resulting in an increased desire to drink more often in order to ease these feelings.

This cycle, for many, has ultimately led to addiction.

Alcohol Induced Changes in Brain Structure and Volume

Regular heavy drinking over many years can increase the likelihood of alcohol related brain damage.

The gradual loss of cognitive abilities depends on both the amount and duration of alcohol consumption.

However, significant brain damage can also happen quickly if a person engages in excessive drinking combined with poor nutrition, known as binge or heavy episodic drinking.

Combining alcohol with illegal drugs or certain prescription medications can lead to severe brain health issues.

Alcohol’s Influence on Sleep Patterns and Brainwave Activity

Many individuals turn to alcohol as a way to help them sleep.

While it might seem beneficial initially, consuming alcohol before heading to bed often leads to a night filled with poor and interrupted sleep.

Aristidis Iatridis, M.D., a specialist in pulmonology and sleep medicine at Piedmont explains that there’s evidence suggesting alcohol interferes with how your brain releases melatonin.

“Melatonin is what your brain produces when it’s time for you to sleep. So, those who consume alcohol usually experience fragmented sleep and don’t get the rest they need; waking up feeling less refreshed,” he mentions.

One of the major issues caused by drinking is insomnia.

Alcohol’s Role in Aging and Cognitive Decline

In a study that looked at 19,887 people from the Health and Retirement Study over an average of 9.1 years, it turns out that folks who drink a little bit but not too much tend to keep their smarts about them better than those who don’t drink at all.

Specifically, they had higher scores in mental sharpness, remembering words, and having larger vocabularies, and these skills didn’t drop off as quickly either.

Drinking just a small to moderate amount seems to help protect your thinking powers according to overall scores and in tests on mental condition, word memory and vocab abilities.

What You Should Remember?

In the short term you might feel more relaxed and less shy due to moderate drinking but remember alcohol essentially depresses your system.

Too much drinking raises chances of falling into depression, feeling anxious, getting irritable, experiencing sudden changes in mood, facing troubles in relationships, and, of course, making poor decisions.

For those dealing with anxiety, turning to alcohol’s brief calming effect might seem appealing but this relief is short lived If dependence on alcohol’s temporary reprieve becomes habitual as it may escalate into an addiction.

Seek medical and professional help if alcohol is impacting your life, whether it’s your personal issues you’re battling or those of a loved one.

It’s okay to seek help and consider how changing your relationship with alcohol could benefit you.

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