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Understanding Alcohol-Related Brain Damage in Chronic Drinking!

alcohol brain damage

Alcohol and its Dependency

Alcoholism is defined as chronic heavy drinking or intoxication resulting in impairment of physical & mental health. It uses dependency as a coping mechanism. It involves increased adaptation to the effects of alcohol which requires increasing doses to achieve and sustain the desired effect.

While diseases like alcohol-related brain damage can take years of heavy drinking to manifest, negative effects on the brain start emerging after just a few drinks.

Co-relation between Alcohol and Brain

People who drink heavily say that they are killing just a few brain cells. This is not funny. This is far from hilarious. A study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center used MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to compare the hippocampus (part of the brain that gets damaged first in Alzheimer’s disease) of subjects 14-21 years old who abused alcohol and those who did not. The results are alarming. The average size difference between healthy teenagers and alcohol abusers was about 10%. That’s quite a lot!

The research found that new cell growth took place in the brain’s hippocampus with as little as four to five weeks of alcohol abstinence, including a “two fold burst” in brain cell growth on the seventh day of being alcohol-free.

How much Brain Damage is Enough for You?

Alcohol slows down the transmission of nerve signals within the brain. When alcohol is taken for long periods, these nerve cells react by increasing the number and sensitivity of these nerve receptors. Whenever drinking stops, the brain is then struck with too many hyperactive receptors. These hyperactive receptors can cause cell death. The presence of such hyperactive receptors with no alcohol to uptake manifests as withdrawal symptoms such as classic headache, jittery hands as well and intense anxiety. It can even generate seizures in individuals who are highly dependent on alcohol. This is the brain’s way of coping without the presence of alcohol in the system. Little by little, brain cell damage and death occur.

It is during withdrawal that the greatest brain damage occurs. Consequently, there is difficulty recalling verbal and nonverbal information. As an individual continues to drink heavily, he later develops difficulty in concentrating and problem-solving.

As damage continues to expand, as one reaches for a drink after the other, damage starts to extend to the limbic system. This part of the brain is responsible for encoding memory and mobilizes when a person is hungry, frightened, or angry. It aids the brain to transmit survival impulses. This also explains why most, if not all of the alcoholic individuals do not desire to eat after a night of drinking and have a hard time recalling what happened or what they have done last night (a condition often referred to as blackout).

Drinking Alcohol in Adolescence

What about those people who started drinking at an early age, like adolescents? Scott Swartzwelder, a neuropsychologist at Duke University says: “The brain is a developing nervous system and the things you do to it can change it.” The studies he conducted showed that adolescents who go on binge drinking have a hard time learning. Learning depends on communication between nerve cells. The alcohol uptake of adolescents makes them increasingly susceptible to brain damage due to the fact that they are developing adults. Nerve receptors are still developing and alcohol takes a toll on these receptors that it difficult for the brain to store long-term memory, which, creates difficulty in learning. If these adults have been drinking since time immemorial, how can they be stopped? And if they do stop and experience withdrawal, imagine how much of their brain has been damaged.


Prolonged intake of alcohol creates changes in the brain that make it difficult to stop reaching bottle after bottle after bottle. This leaves us with a nagging question: how much is too much? Let me rephrase the question: how much brain cell damage is enough for you?


Featured photo: Business photo created by lyashenko –

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Navjot Singh
I'm an independent healthcare analyst with a passion for exploring and researching overall well-being. From cutting-edge medications to time-tested traditions, I delve into various perspectives. My extensive analysis covers health, alternative treatments, nutrition, fitness, herbs, and parenting. Every write-up on Bloomposts is churned thoroughly from authentic & published mediums. My aim is to provide valuable information for those who seek it. Now, let's dive into the articles - I hope you find them enjoyable and valuable.

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