How Does Alcohol Affect and Damage your Brain?


One result of chronic alcoholism is the brain damage caused by long-term high alcohol intake. Certain areas of alcoholics’ brains atrophy, resulting in lesions and deficiencies in brain function.

According to brain imaging studies, the prefrontal cortex (in the front of the brain) and cerebellum (in the lower back of the brain) are particularly sensitive to the consequences of long-term alcohol addiction.

This indicates that severe alcohol consumption over time will harm brain areas that govern executive function (the prefrontal cortex) as well as balance and postural stability (the cerebellum).

As alcohol use continues, the brain adjusts to the high levels of dopamine present and begins to naturally make less dopamine. As natural dopamine levels fall, the brain needs more alcohol to maintain dopamine production artificially high. This pattern is known as tolerance, and it indicates that the body has become dependent on alcohol. If a person stops drinking alcohol at this point, they will suffer withdrawal symptoms as the brain struggles to recover from a continual state of overstimulation and reestablish equilibrium.

Alcohol can also harm the white matter of the brain. People who relapse from an alcohol use problem have less white matter. Long-term abstinence is linked to increased white matter in certain parts of the brain, including the corpus callosum and subcortical white matter.

What Parts of the Brain Does Alcohol Affect

Our ideas, emotions, memories, motor functions, temperature, senses, organs, and autonomic actions such as breathing are all controlled by the brain. All of these critical brain activities can be negatively impacted by alcohol.

  • The Cerebral Cortex is our consciousness’s thinking core. It is where we evaluate incoming information and make judgments and conclusions. Alcohol depresses this function by delaying sensory input, clouding the cognitive process, and lowering inhibitions. Long-term alcohol usage can permanently harm the cerebral cortex.
  • The Cerebellum is the brain’s control center for movement, coordination, equilibrium, and balance. This brain area is impaired by alcohol, leading us to be unstable, stumble, and perhaps fall. It may also induce us to tremble our hands.
  • The hypothalamus and pituitary gland collaborate to connect the neurological and endocrine systems. In order to maintain the body’s internal equilibrium, this area of the brain both activates and suppresses critical hormonal activities. Alcohol depresses and alters the equilibrium of these systems while also influencing sexual desire and performance. Sexual desire may increase, but performance skills may suffer.
  • The Medulla regulates autonomic functions such as breathing, awareness, and body temperature. Alcohol depresses these critical systems, resulting in tiredness, slowed respiration, a drop in body temperature, and possibly coma. Depression of automatic functions can be fatal.
  • The brain, spinal cord, and nerves comprise the Central Nervous System. Alcohol hinders the transmission of signals to and from these regions, resulting in slower movement, thinking, and speech.

Long Term Effects of Alcohol On The Brain

Many long-term effects of alcohol usage can result in irreversible brain damage as well as harm to other organs. Brain injury may be reversed with intervention. Long-term brain effects of alcohol include:

  • Symptoms of withdrawal can be severe and cause brain cell destruction Hallucinations and seizures are two of the most hazardous symptoms.
  • Damage to neurotransmitters hinders communication between brain regions and lowers energy levels.
  • The loss of gray matter, which includes cell bodies, and white matter, which regulates cell routes, causes brain atrophy.
  • ognitive impairment may affect verbalization, mental processing, memory, learning, concentration, and impulse control. 
  • According to Medical News Today, Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is associated with severe thiamine shortage, which results in alcohol-induced brain dysfunction.

Alcohol Poisoning & Overdose

According to the CDC, an average of six persons die in the United States each day as a result of alcohol poisoning. Many of the fatalities are the consequence of binge drinking rather than long-term alcohol consumption. A single incident of excessive alcohol consumption can result in an overdose, which can cause brain damage or death.

Binge drinking is one of the most prevalent causes of alcohol poisoning since it involves consuming a significant amount of alcohol in a short period of time. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), binge drinking occurs when an individual’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is.08 or above, which is the legal drunkenness level in many states.

Does Alcohol Kill Brain Cells?

People who engage in dangerous habits are frequently warned that they will “destroy their brain cells.” As previously demonstrated, alcohol may profoundly remodel and rewire the brain, but can it truly damage brain cells?

Drinking, according to Harvard Medical School research, affects the brain’s white matter, or tissue deep inside the brain that helps us process ideas and regulate movement, as well as transfers communications between the nervous system and other parts of the brain.

While Parkinson’s disease, stroke, diabetes, and high blood pressure can all cause white matter loss, drinking might hasten this process.

Researchers discovered that alcohol specifically destroyed white matter in areas of the brain important for impulse control, making it less likely that people will be able to cut back or quit drinking.

Fortunately, researchers saw one ray of hope: it looked that this damaged white matter may potentially recover if drinkers stopped drinking before the age of 50.