Alcohol and the Brain


Alcohol has an impact on numerous areas of the brain.

Alcohol contracts tissue in the brain and depresses the nervous system. It can also damage brain cells, which can’t replenish themselves in the way that other cells in the body can.

Sustained drinking over a long period of time can damage the memory and cause cognition problems.

Even in the short-term, alcohol impacts the memory through what are known as “blackouts”.  These are when people experience gaps in their memory from the previous night. Blacking out is particularly common when lots is drunk in a short space of time or without eating any food. It isn’t only those suffering from alcoholism who have blackouts; it can happen to anyone.

Some experts say that women and more likely to black out from alcohol.

There are further types of damage alcohol can cause to the brain. They usually occur when someone consistently drinks heavily over a sustained period of time. The damage may occur as a direct result of alcohol use or may be brought about because of health problems related to alcohol use.

Thiamine (or B1 deficiency) is caused by malnutrition which can result from heavy drinking. Thiamine is essential to the brain’s function. Those lacking Thiamine can develop Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome, which is actually two related brain disorders.

Wernicke’s encephalopathy comes first. It is a short-term but serious condition which causes confusion, nerve paralysis and muscle difficulties. People with Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome can then develop Korsakoff’s psychosis which is more long-term and causes serious problems with memory and cognition.

To avoid alcohol-related brain damage, drink well within the recommended unit limits. If you are worried about how much you drink, get help as soon as possible.

← Back to Index

Email usTel: +44 (0)330 555 4680

Our site uses cookies to help provide you the best experience. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.
Find out more about cookies and how to change your cookie settings in your browser.