How Does Alcohol Affect The Brain? - Bedrock Recovery Center (2023)

  • Alcohol Effects On The Brain
  • Short-Term Effects
  • Long-Term Effects
  • Reversing Brain Damage
  • Treatment Options

Alcohol affects the brain by slowing down or impairing brain functions such as perception, motor control, and even critical functions that the brain controls automatically.

The overproduction of acetaldehyde and the deficiency of thiamine that result from alcohol use disorder can lead to significant brain damage.

Some of alcohol’s effects may include learning deficiency, memory loss, and loss of basic motor control.

The Way Alcohol Affects Brain Function

When you drink a small or moderate amount of alcohol, it feels like a stimulant because it lowers inhibitions so that you want to talk more or do things that you wouldn’t normally do.

In reality, alcohol is depressing brain function and impairing your ability to do things that you would normally be able to do without any thought.

Alcohol does this by impacting many of the major parts of the brain.

Depresses The Cerebral Cortex Function

The very thing that makes you think alcohol is a stimulant (namely, the lack of inhibition) is actually the result of alcohol depressing the cerebral cortex of the brain.

The cerebral cortex is the part of the brain that makes decisions based on the information it gathers from the senses. In other words, it is responsible for your good judgment (or lack thereof).

The reason alcohol lowers your inhibitions and can lead to poor decisions is that it is depressing your cerebral cortex.

Impairs Cerebellum Function

If you engage in heavy drinking or binge drinking and notice that you are having trouble standing up or grasping things, it is because alcohol is impairing your cerebellum.

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The cerebellum is the part of the brain that controls what you think, your overall awareness of your surroundings, and your motor skills. Decreased cerebellum function is why, for example, you should never drink and drive.

Disrupts The Flow Between Endocrine And Nervous Systems

If excessive alcohol use goes on for a long period of time becoming an alcohol use disorder, it can disrupt the flow of communication between the endocrine and nervous systems.

In particular, this poor communication can damage hormone levels.

In addition to behavioral issues, it can lead to the following physiological problems:

  • bone disease
  • immune problems
  • growth defects
  • cancer
  • thyroid problems
  • reproductive deficiencies
  • stress abnormalities

Depresses Medulla Function

The part of the brain called the medulla is what controls and regulates all the things you don’t think about, like heart rate, body temperature, and breathing.

While alcohol can sometimes make you feel warm, it actually lowers your body temperature. As heavy amounts of alcohol depress the medulla you can overdose, lose consciousness, and possibly die.

Slows The Central Nervous System

In general, alcohol broadly affects your ability to think and move, because it depresses your central nervous system.

Because the central nervous system is connected to the spinal cord, this slows down messages the brain sends to the body, making thought and movement slower as well.

Short-Term Effects Of Alcohol On The Brain

The short-term effects of alcohol can range from moderate to severe impairment of brain function, depending on how much a person drinks, how quickly he or she drinks it, and other factors.

With just a couple of drinks, alcohol begins to impair decision-making. Add several more drinks to that and you can experience lapses of short-term memory or even blackouts.

A blackout results from heavy alcohol consumption that continues until you don’t know where you are or what you are doing.

Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol On The Brain

Alcohol can also have long-term effects on different areas of the brain. This can result in memory loss and confusion as well as the loss of certain motor functions.

While it is a myth that drinking alcohol kills brain cells, people who are heavy drinkers for a long period of time can seriously damage their cognition.

Find out more about long-term effects of alcohol use.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

For people who have had an alcohol use disorder resulting in prolonged, heavy alcohol consumption, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be severe. This is because the brain has been depressed for so long.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • heavy sweating
  • anxiety
  • agitation
  • visual and audio disturbances

Cognitive Impairment

Cognitive impairment describes the deficit in what you know and how you know it.

When alcohol dependence goes on for a long time, it impairs your ability to:

  • reason
  • make decision
  • solve problems
  • perceive surroundings
  • understand or use language
  • create mental images
  • form memories

Brain Shrinkage

Drinking alcohol heavily and for extended periods of time can actually shrink your brain. When your brain shrinks, it means that you have incurred brain damage.

Studies have shown that both men and women develop more brain shrinkage because of heavy alcohol use than people who are not addicted to alcohol.

This brain damage results in learning impairment and memory loss. Studies also indicate that women incur the same amount of shrinkage as men, but they usually had been drinking for only about half as long.

Effects On Neurotransmitters

Studies suggest that alcohol affects the brain through neurotransmitters, resulting in changes to functions like inhibition. Over the short term, sensitivity to these transmitters is increased.

However, over the long term, the sensitivity of neurotransmission is decreased and neurons in the brain are damaged.

This is possibly why suddenly stopping alcohol results in tremors, because the neurotransmitters are over-reacting after extended periods of being depressed.

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Effects On Memory

Alcohol’s effects on memory can range from mild to severe. In the long term, heavy alcohol consumption can result in the loss of memories that you have made.

But it can go further than that and affect your ability to make and keep new memories, a condition commonly referred to as alcohol dementia.

Brain Dysfunction From Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Long-term alcohol consumption can lead to a disorder called Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS) which affects the hippocampus among other parts of the brain. This syndrome, also called wet brain, has two distinct disorders.

The Wernicke portion of the syndrome is called Wernicke’s encephalopathy. This syndrome describes brain damage that comes from excessive alcohol use over long periods of time.

This type of brain damage can result in:

  • poor muscle coordination
  • paralysis of nerves
  • confusion

Alcohol-Induced Psychosis

Alcohol-induced psychosis is described by the second part of WKS which is called Korsakoff’s psychosis.

People who have Korsakoff’s psychosis not only have difficulty with coordination but also experience confusion and are quickly frustrated.

In addition, they have retrograde and anterograde amnesia, which means that they have trouble with both remembering things and learning new things.

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Can You Reverse Alcohol-Induced Brain Damage?

What is common among people who have alcohol-related brain damage, especially those who have WKS, is often a thiamine deficiency.

When WKS is caught early, doctors can treat it with thiamine and improve some function and clarity.

However, if WKS is in its advanced stage, the focus of care is on helping the person and their loved ones or family manage those symptoms.

Treatment Options For Alcohol Addiction

There are treatments for alcohol use disorder that address all the needs of someone addicted to alcohol.

These needs may include detox, medication-assisted treatment, psychiatry, and evidence-based treatment
(therapy). With these tools and a treatment center to help you, you can achieve sobriety.

(Video) Addiction and Recovery: Why Not Just Say "No" by Dr. Bob Weathers

Find Treatment For Alcohol Use Disorder Today

Alcohol addiction can have debilitating effects on your brain. The time to begin treatment is now.

At Bedrock Recovery Center, we understand the many different ways alcohol addiction can affect your brain and body, and we’ll design a treatment plan that addresses your unique needs.

If you want to achieve sobriety, call our helpline to be connected to our treatment center.

Written by
Bedrock Recovery Editorial Team

©2022 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

(Video) Jon Taylor on Reclaiming the Holidays in Recovery, Dec 22, 2020

This page does not provide medical advice.


How does alcohol affect the brain centers? ›

Alcohol interferes with the brain's communication pathways and can affect the way the brain looks and works. Alcohol makes it harder for the brain areas controlling balance, memory, speech, and judgment to do their jobs, resulting in a higher likelihood of injuries and other negative outcomes.

How does the brain recover from alcohol? ›

Once brain cells die, the effect of the brain damage is permanent. Thankfully, some of the changes in the alcoholic brain are due to cells simply changing size in the brain. Once an alcoholic has stopped drinking, these cells return to their normal volume, showing that some alcohol-related brain damage is reversible.

How does alcohol affect the brain Mayo Clinic? ›

These may include inappropriate behavior, unstable moods, poor judgment, slurred speech, problems with attention or memory, and poor coordination. You can also have periods called "blackouts," where you don't remember events. Very high blood alcohol levels can lead to coma, permanent brain damage or even death.

Does alcohol affect brain centers equally? ›

Can Alcohol Affect Your Brain? The more intoxicated you get, the more areas of the brain are compromised by the neurochemical reactions.

Does alcohol affect the reward center of your brain and leaves the rest of the brain intact? ›

Alcohol affects the "reward center" of your brain and leaves the rest of the brain intact. The brain's 'reward center' becomes less productive and therefore dependent on the stimulant to feel pleasure.

What part of the brain is first affected by alcohol? ›

Alcohol can appear to be a stimulant because, initially, it depresses the part of the brain that controls inhibitions. cerebral cortex as it works with information from a person's senses. In the cerebral cortex, alcohol can a ect thought processes, leading to potentially poor judgment.

What happens in the brain during recovery? ›

During recovery, other areas of the brain take over the activities of the damaged areas and new nerve pathways can be established using undamaged brain cells. Engaging in activity helps these alternative pathways to develop.

How long does it take for the brain to recover? ›

Healing begins after the brain starts recovering the volume of its lost grey matter, which may happen within a week or two after detox. Recovering other areas of the brain and the white matter in the prefrontal cortex can take months or longer.

How long after drinking does your brain heal? ›

It takes at least two weeks for the brain to return to normal after drinking. Therefore, this is when the alcohol recovery timeline begins. It is less able to suppress a desire to drink until the brain has recovered. The reason for this is that alcohol has harmed the brain's cognitive function.

Does alcohol cause dementia? ›

Alcohol consumption in excess has well-documented negative effects on both short- and long-term health, one of which is brain damage that can lead to Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia.

What are 5 ways alcohol can affect the brain? ›

Difficulty walking, blurred vision, slurred speech, slowed reaction times, impaired memory: Clearly, alcohol affects the brain.

Does alcohol affect memory? ›

Alcohol primarily disrupts the ability to form new long–term memories; it causes less disruption of recall of previously established long–term memories or of the ability to keep new information active in short–term memory for a few seconds or more.

Why does my brain work better when I drink? ›

"One of these chemicals, called GABA, acts like a sedative to calm the brain down, while the other, called glutamate, excites the brain and makes it more active," says Professor Lingford-Hughes. Alcohol quickly increases GABA function, which is why a drink relaxes us.

Which two areas of the brain are most affected by alcohol? ›

The Frontal Lobes: The frontal lobes of our brain are responsible for cognition, thought, memory, and judgment. By inhibiting its effects, alcohol impairs nearly every one of these functions. The hippocampus: The hippocampus forms and stores memory. Alcohol's impact on the hippocampus leads to memory loss.

What happens if you drink alcohol everyday? ›

Long-Term Health Risks. Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems including: High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems. Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, and rectum.

What part of the brain controls the reward center? ›

The hypothalamus is important for coordinating an individual's interest in rewards with the body's physiological state. This region integrates brain function with the physiological needs of the organism.

How does alcohol affect the eyes? ›

Other effects of drinking alcohol regularly can result in dry eyes and eyelid twitching, known as myokymia. This triggers short-term inflammation and double vision that causes burning and itching of the eyes, migraines, and sensitivity to light.

Does alcohol destroy brain cells? ›

Alcohol does kill brain cells. Some of those cells can be regenerated over time. In the meantime, the existing nerve cells branch out to compensate for the lost functions. This damage may be permanent.

Does drinking cause brain damage? ›

If a person regularly drinks much more than the recommended limit of alcohol, it can damage their brain. It causes their memory and ability to think clearly to get worse over time, especially if the person drinks too much over many years.

Can the brain recover from brain damage? ›

Most studies suggest that once brain cells are destroyed or damaged, for the most part, they do not regenerate. However, recovery after brain injury can take place, especially in younger people, as, in some cases, other areas of the brain make up for the injured tissue.

What is good for brain recovery? ›

Some studies have shown that a Mediterranean diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, olive oil and fish may be beneficial after brain injury. This is based on research suggesting it helps to maintain cognitive function as people age.

How can I recover my brain? ›

To help with brain recovery, Damioli also emphasizes the need to:
  1. Limit stress.
  2. Learn new recovery skills.
  3. Join healthy peer groups.
  4. Get about eight to nine hours of sleep.
  5. Eat healthy foods.
  6. Stay hydrated.

How do you know if you have permanent brain damage from alcohol? ›

Physical Signs Of Alcohol-Related Brain Damage

Paralysis of the eyes or strange, jerky eye movements: these symptoms are typical of Wernicke's encephalopathy. Numbness in the hands and feet: this is another symptom associated with Wernicke's encephalopathy.

Does memory come back after quitting drinking? ›

Quitting Alcohol

The brain does not return to its usual state for a long time after a person stops drinking. Attention, memory, and reaction time start to return but are not at normal speeds for quite some time.

Can you recover from damage from alcohol? ›

After drinking stops, damaged organs may regain partial function or even heal completely, depending on the extent of organ damage and whether there is relapse (i.e., resumption of drinking).

What is considered heavy alcohol use? ›

Heavy drinking: For women, heavy drinking is 8 drinks or more per week. For men, heavy drinking is 15 drinks or more per week.

How much do you have to drink to get alcoholic dementia? ›

Regardless of type of alcohol consumed, the risk of dementia increased linearly, starting around 14 units/week (appendix figure S5).

Can drinking cause mental illness? ›

Alcohol problems and mental ill health are closely linked. Research shows that people who drink alcohol are more likely to develop mental health problems. It's also true that people with severe mental illness are more likely to have alcohol problems.

What are 3 long term effects of drinking on your brain and body? ›

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

Long-term health risks of chronic alcohol use include heart, liver and digestion problems, cancer, immune system weakening as well as mood and sleep disturbances, and the development of other mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.

Can a night of drinking cause brain damage? ›

The research proves that it does not take as much alcohol as most people believe to cause real harm to the brain. Binge drinking for one night can still be harmful to the brain and body even for young people who aren't yet addicted to the drug.

What do you call someone that drinks a lot? ›

drunkard. noun. someone who frequently drinks too much alcohol.

What causes memory loss and forgetfulness? ›

Memory and other thinking problems have many possible causes, including depression, an infection, or medication side effects. Sometimes, the problem can be treated, and cognition improves. Other times, the problem is a brain disorder, such as Alzheimer's disease, which cannot be reversed.

Which alcohol is best for brain? ›

Red wine is high in natural chemicals that fight inflammation and protect cells in your brain from damage. Moderate wine drinking could help prevent the blood clots that can lead to stroke and reduce the risk of dementia.

Does alcohol clean the brain? ›

While a couple of glasses of wine can help clear the mind after a busy day, new research shows that it may actually help clean the mind as well. The new study shows that low levels of alcohol consumption tamp down inflammation and helps the brain clear away toxins, including those associated with Alzheimer's disease.

Which alcohol is good for nerves? ›

Ethanol: Ethanol reduces the risk of wear and tear in the brain neurons. Any damage to the neurons may lead to Alzheimer's or dementia. Hence ethanol helps to prevent any harm to the brain cells.

How can you tell when someone is drinking? ›

Unlike many other drugs, the smell of alcohol can also be a warning sign that someone is drinking.
What Are the Signs of Intoxication?
  • Slurred speech.
  • Lowered inhibitions.
  • Impaired coordination and motor skills.
  • Sense of confusion.
  • Memory problems.
  • Concentration problems.
  • General personality changes.
6 Jul 2022

Does alcohol affect intelligence? ›

Conclusions. Individuals with alcohol-related disorders have a lower intelligence test score both in young adulthood and in late midlife, and these disorders, moreover, seem to be associated with more age-related decline in intelligence test scores.

How does alcohol affect your mouth? ›

Alcohol dries out the mouth and, when saliva flow is reduced, the risk for tooth decay and gum disease increases. This is because saliva plays an important role in oral health, helping wash away bacteria. When you have dry mouth or are dehydrated, bacteria clings to the enamel and increases your risk of tooth decay.

What are signs that you are drinking too much alcohol? ›

15 Physical Signs You're Drinking Too Much
  • Changes in your skin. Drinking too much alcohol often spells bad news for your skin complexion and youthfulness. ...
  • Easy bruising. ...
  • Weight gain. ...
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss. ...
  • Tingling or a sensation of numbness. ...
  • Heartburn. ...
  • Stomach issues. ...
  • Nausea and vomiting.
22 Aug 2022

What is the healthiest alcohol? ›

However, if you are going to drink, having red wine in moderation is a healthier choice than other alcoholic drinks. This is due to its high levels of antioxidants called polyphenols, which have been linked to better heart and gut health.

Is it normal to drink every night? ›

"While there are a number of variables, typically having a drink every night does not necessarily equate to alcohol use disorder, but it can increase the risk of developing alcohol-related health problems," Lawrence Weinstein, MD, Chief Medical Officer at American Addiction Centers tells WebMD Connect to Care.

Can you repair brain cells from drinking? ›

Alcohol does kill brain cells. Some of those cells can be regenerated over time. In the meantime, the existing nerve cells branch out to compensate for the lost functions. This damage may be permanent.

How long does it take for serotonin levels to return to normal after alcohol? ›

This decrease in serotonin may be one of the explanatory factors that contributes to the feeling of low mood not just in the immediacy after drinking, but for a considerable time afterwards. In fact, in this study, serotonin levels did not return to normal levels even after 14 days, compared to controls.

What helps recover brain cells? ›

  • Get plenty of sleep at night, and rest during the day.
  • Increase your activity slowly.
  • Write down the things that may be harder than usual for you to remember.
  • Avoid alcohol, drugs, and caffeine.
  • Eat brain-healthy foods.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
18 Jan 2017

Can you make a full recovery from brain damage? ›

Therefore, a full and functional TBI recovery is almost always possible, even though it might take several years of dedication. But in order to make this type of progress, you must take initiative. In fact, without consistent work, brain injury recovery can stall and even regress.

Which alcohol is good for brain? ›

Brain benefits of moderate drinking

Other studies have linked the resveratrol found in red wine to heart and brain health benefits, and suggest that regular moderate consumption of red wine may slow aging.

How do you know if your body is damaged from alcohol? ›

Generally, symptoms of alcoholic liver disease include abdominal pain and tenderness, dry mouth and increased thirst, fatigue, jaundice (which is yellowing of the skin), loss of appetite, and nausea. Your skin may look abnormally dark or light.

Can a recovered alcoholic live a long life? ›

Since it was shown in studies that alcoholics tend to die younger than non-alcoholics, doctors have questioned whether alcohol-related damage to the body is permanent. The latest study confirms that alcoholics can recover physically and live out their lives, said Dr.

What happens after 8 weeks of not drinking? ›

Improved Liver Function

You can expect improved liver function almost immediately after you stop drinking alcohol. Experts predict that most drinkers' livers can return to completely normal function after 4-8 weeks of no alcohol.

How can I increase serotonin and dopamine naturally? ›

10 Ways to Boost Dopamine and Serotonin Naturally
  1. Exercise. Regular exercise for at least 30 minutes each day improves one's overall mood. ...
  2. Spend Time in Nature. In previous generations, humans spent most of their time outdoors. ...
  3. Nutrition. ...
  4. Meditation. ...
  5. Gratitude. ...
  6. Essential Oils. ...
  7. Goal Achievement. ...
  8. Happy Memories.
12 Dec 2017

What is considered heavy drinking? ›

What do you mean by heavy drinking? For men, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 15 drinks or more per week. For women, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 8 drinks or more per week.

How can I increase my serotonin after drinking? ›

Read on to learn about different ways to increase serotonin naturally.
  1. Adjust your diet. ...
  2. Get more exercise. ...
  3. Bring in the bright light. ...
  4. Take certain supplements. ...
  5. Try massage therapy. ...
  6. Try mood induction. ...
  7. Manage emotions and stress levels. ...
  8. Think about sleep deprivation.


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