How can excessive alcohol consumption affect my brain?

While there’s ample research documenting the heart-health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, heavy drinking has been shown to do lasting damage to the brain. A Saint Louis University animal study suggests that several years of heavy drinking not only slows down learning ability, but can also permanently impair memory as well. Researchers fed two groups of rodents an alcoholic solution for either four or eight weeks—the human equivalent of a daily bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer for either three or six years. Both groups were tested for long-term memory and learning ability after being “off the bottle” for three weeks. Significant long-term memory impairment occurred in the eight-week rats but not the four-week rats. What’s more, the impairment hadn’t improved when the rats were retested nine weeks later.

German researchers who used computerized tomography scans to examine the brains of 158 human subjects—which included both alcoholics and a control group—found that women drinkers develop brain atrophy faster than their male counterparts. Lead researcher Karl Mann, MD, observed, “Women developed equal brain-volume reductions as the men after a significantly shorter period of alcohol dependence than the men.” In other words, although women typically start drinking at an older age, consume less and are less likely to develop alcohol dependence than men, their brains are more vulnerable to neurochemical damage from excess drinking.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.