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How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain?

 Image showing how many people experience alcohol abuse.

Alcohol is one of the most used drugs in the United States of America. Nearly one-third of people experience Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) at some point in their lives. 

About 85% of Americans say they have used alcohol, and more than 25% say they have binged on alcohol recently.

A 2018 study published in The Lancet contends that there is no such thing as a safe level of alcohol consumption. Drinking alcohol excessively over an extended time results in alcohol-related brain damage, sometimes referred to as alcohol-related brain impairment. 

Numerous factors, such as a lack of vitamin B1 (thiamine), the damaging effects of alcohol on nerve cells, increased risk of head trauma, and blood vessel damage, might contribute to alcohol-induced brain damage. 

So, to avoid alcohol addiction, treatment is essential. Get the best treatment from the Haven Detox-New England to help yourself, and your loved ones live poison-free lives.

Our Brain on Alcohol 

Alcohol is absorbed throughout your entire body, but the brain is where it suffers the most. Alcohol hampers the neural pathways in the brain.

Additionally, it may influence how your brain interprets information. There are several stages of alcohol intoxication:

Subliminal Intoxication 

Subliminal intoxication is the initial stage of intoxication, with a blood alcohol level (BAC) of between 0.01 and 0.05. Although you may not appear visibly to have consumed alcohol, your conduct, judgment, and reaction time may be slightly off. Most men and women reach this “buzzed” state after one drink, depending on weight.


Your brain produces more dopamine when you first start drinking. This chemical and pleasure are related. You might experience euphoria and feel at ease and assured. Your memory and logic, however, can be slightly compromised. This stage, which is frequently referred to as “tipsy,” happens when your BAC is between 0.03 and 0.12.


When your BAC is between 0.09 and 0.25, you are considered legally drunk. This level of intoxication affects your brain’s occipital lobe, temporal lobe, and frontal lobe. Each lobe’s function-specific side effects, such as blurred vision, slurred speech and hearing, and loss of control, can be brought on by excessive drinking. 

The slowed processing of sensory data, impaired judgment, and even nausea or vomiting are expected in this stage.


A BAC of 0.18 to 0.3 frequently resembles confusion. It affects your cerebellum, which aids with coordination. As a result, you might require assistance standing or walking. 

At this point, blackouts, or the brief loss of consciousness or memory, are also likely to happen. This results from the hippocampus, the part of the central nervous system in charge of creating new memories, not functioning correctly. Additionally, you can have a higher pain tolerance, which could put you at a higher risk of damage.


When your BAC reaches 0.25, you could start to exhibit worrisome symptoms of alcohol poisoning

All cognitive, motor, and sensory processes are currently significantly compromised. There is a substantial potential for dizziness, asphyxia, and brain damage. 


You risk going into a coma at a BAC of 0.35. At this stage, you exhibit impaired reflexes, motor reactions, breathing, and blood circulation. 

A person in this stage is in danger of passing away.


A BAC of 0.45 or higher may result in death from alcohol poisoning or from the brain’s inability to control essential bodily processes.

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol is dangerous for health. Even light-to-moderate alcohol consumption damages physical health as well as mental health. Let’s have a look at the harmful effects of alcohol abuse.   


To maintain optimal function, the brain, a fragile and sophisticated organ, must carefully balance certain chemicals known as neurotransmitters. Long-term, chronic alcohol consumption pushes a person’s brain to adapt to the disruption of this delicate balance that alcohol intoxication can cause in the brain’s normal equilibrium. 

Drinking alcohol changes the amounts of neurotransmitters in the brain. These chemical messengers play a significant role in regulating behavior, mood, and physical activity. They also transmit signals throughout the body.

Intoxicated people exhibit delayed movement, slurred speech, and slower reaction times because too much alcohol consumption shuts down the neurotransmitter GABA. In addition, glutamate, a neurotransmitter that controls dopamine in the reward area of the brain, is accelerated by alcohol.

Memory Issues 

Alcohol also affects the hippocampus region of the brain, which is involved in forming new memories, which can lead to short-term memory loss and blackouts when drinking. 

Men and women have alcohol-induced blackouts at identical rates, even though women typically drink less frequently and less intensely than men, according to an analysis published in the journal Alcohol Research in 2020. 

In extreme situations, consuming alcohol in excess and quickly enough can result in unconsciousness and permanent damage.

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Abuse 

Binge drinking can undoubtedly put a person at risk for injury, embarrassment, and poor decision-making power. Unfortunately, if you drink alcohol regularly, you can permanently harm your health.

Brain Cells Death and Permanent Brain Damage  

Avoiding negative emotions causes consumption to increase, which can harm the brain and the rest of the body more. For instance, alcohol kills cells in the brain and injures cell networks; it is unclear how much of either can recover.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) describes “wet brain” as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a kind of dementia brought on by thiamine, or vitamin B1, deficiency in the brain. Alcohol hampers thiamine absorption and interferes with the enzyme that changes it into a form the body can use persistent drinking. 

According to research, damaged areas of the brain can begin to light up again during brain scans after cutting back on alcohol consumption. There are limitations, and frequent progress isn’t noticeable until months have passed, during which the brain has had time to heal.

Alcohol-related brain (and body) damage can even be fatal: 

People who routinely drink ten drinks or more per week have one to two years shorter life expectancy than those who consume fewer than five drinks per week.

Alcohol Dependence  

Regular drinkers understand that alcohol overdose doesn’t affect them as much as it once did. According to research, frequent high alcohol consumption might cause the reward system’s circuitry to become worn out and lose some of its regular functionality. 

When you develop a tolerance, even the exact amount of alcohol you used to drink doesn’t make you feel as fantastic as it used to.

People’s behavior towards alcohol changes due to changes in the brain. According to the University of Oxford, the more a person drinks, the likelihood that they may seek out alcohol and use it as a coping mechanism increases. 

People frequently begin drinking to feel good, but as they become more chronic drinkers, they must drink to feel good instead of miserable.

Causes Brain Shrinkage 

A 2021 study published in Scientific Reports suggests that binge drinking may cause a reduction in brain volume. 

Researchers discovered that those who suffer from Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) have less brain tissue than those who do not. 

Attention, language, memory, and reasoning are the cognitive functions controlled by the damaged brain areas. 

Alcohol can alter your brain functions in ways that affect memory and judgment, among other things.

According to a 2014 study published in Neurology, heavy drinking, known as chronic drinking, may also quicken memory loss in the early stages of old age in men. Signs of cognitive deterioration in men who consumed more than two and a half drinks per day appeared six years earlier than in those who consumed less.

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS)

Long-term, excessive alcohol use increases the risk of thiamine deficiency, leading to Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS), popularly known as “wet brain,” and associated with poor diet. Up to eighty percent of alcoholics have a thiamine deficiency. 

WKS is an ailment with two syndromes: a short-lived and severe condition known as Wernicke’s Encephalopathy and a long-lasting and debilitating disease called Korsakoff Psychosis.

The common signs of Wernicke’s Encephalopathy include mental confusion, paralysis of the nerves that move the eyes, and problems with muscle coordination. Many Wernicke’s encephalopathy patients do not exhibit all three signs and symptoms. 

Clinicians working with alcoholics must know that this disorder may be present even if a person shows only one or two symptoms. 

Moderate drinkers suffer less compared to heavy drinkers. Moderate alcohol consumption is defined as one or fewer drinks per day for females and two or fewer drinks per day for men, according to the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Heavy drinking or heavy alcohol consumption for women is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as consuming eight or more drinks weekly. 

Alcohol consumption should be avoided to avoid brain damage and health issues. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

What are the four impacts of alcohol on the brain? 

Below are the impacts of long-term alcohol abuse on the brain.   

  • Blurred vision
  • Difficulty walking
  • Slurred speech
  • Slowed reaction times,
  • Impaired memory

Can alcohol permanently damage your brain? 

In the long run, binge drinking can result in mental health issues like anxiety, despair, and mental confusion . Abuse of alcohol increases the higher risk of developing some cancers and can cause severe, possibly irreversible brain damage.

How does alcohol affect brain damage? 

Alcohol impairs the function of the brain regions in charge of balance, memory, speech, and judgment, increasing the risk of accidents and other unfavorable outcomes. Long-term, heavy drinking alters the neurons, resulting in the shrinkage of the cells.

Does drinking alcohol damage the brain? 

Over extended periods, people who consume significant amounts of alcohol risk experiencing severe and long-lasting mental alterations. Alcohol’s direct effects on the brain may cause harm directly or indirectly due to poor general health or severe liver illness.

Does alcohol affect the human brain in the long term?  

Yes! Drinking too much alcohol might eventually result in mental health issues, including head injuries, despair, anxiety, and mental confusion.

Alcoholism increases the likelihood of developing some cancers and severe and irreversible brain damage. In extreme cases, alcohol use’s cognitive impacts might include dementia, learning difficulties, memory loss, and severely impaired mental function. 

Find Professional Treatment for Quitting Alcohol at The Haven Detox in New England 

Find the medical care and compassion you need from our team of dedicated staff at The Haven Detox in New England, Massachusetts. We provide evidence based treatment and individualized programs to meet the needs of each of our patients. Our state of the art facility offers medical detox and premium residential care

At The Haven, it is our number one goal to provide patients with a safe and secure environment that is perfect for overcoming their addiction. When you are ready to take the first step, contact our admissions counselors at (844) 933-4145.