How Adversely Alcohol Affects The Brain?

There is no doubt in saying that alcohol acts as a poison to the body.


Alcohol is a major threat to global health. A chronic use of alcohol is associated with dysfunction of multiple organs, including the brain. Although many people enjoy moderate drinking but drinking too much leads to an overdose and an overdose impairs the body functions that highly increases the risk of various complications. Like most body organs, the brain is also vulnerable to injury from alcohol consumption. In fact, excessive alcohol consumption impairs the quality of living of a person to a great extent. Many reports state that the effects of excessive exposure of alcohol on the brain and behavior vary from person to person.

Numerous studies suggest that the effects of alcohol on the brain are influenced by a wide range of factors which include an age of a person, an age at which an individual started drinking, duration of the drinking and gender.

Drinking large quantities of alcohol often preceded blackout and it plays an important role in causing the episodes of memory loss. Blackouts basically represent the episodes of amnesia. Amnesia is defined as a memory loss which usually occurs either by physical injury to the brain or by the ingestion of any toxic substance that affects the brain. Consumption of alcohol impairs the memory and the ability to form new memories. It impairs an individual’s ability to learn new things and recall past events. The impairment of memory can be defined in two ways:

  • Explicit memory is a condition in which an individual is unable to recall recent information such as what they had in the lunch or any information they just read about. This type of memories is sometimes known as declarative memories.
  • Implicit memory is also known as unconscious memory and it is defined as a condition in which an individual uses past experience to remember things without thinking about them. It is acquired and affects the thoughts and behavior of a person.

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Effects of alcohol on the hippocampus

Long term use of alcohol causes multiple changes in the central nervous system. Alcoholics often experience a reduction in the size of the forebrain and hippocampus. A lot of neurodegenerative changes are also witnessed in the alcoholics. Impairment of memory during acute intoxication involves dysfunction of episodic memory which is a memory encoded with spatial and social context. Consumption of alcohol alters the functioning of the hippocampus and related structures on a cellular level.  

Long term alcohol intake results in a loss of hippocampal pyramidal cells and any damage to the hippocampus causes deficits in learning. Damage to the perirhinal and parahippocampal cortex part of the hippocampal system in primates causes impairments in visual recognition memory.

Effects of alcohol on the cerebellum

According to various researchers, alcoholics often suffer from motor incoordination due to alcohol related cerebellar damage. Consumption of excessive alcohol leads to the death of the cells and causes loss of functions.

The cerebellum plays an important role in the acquisition of motor skills and the cognitive process that controls movement. The cerebellum consists of several sub-divisions and each of them controls different behavioral functions. It includes the left and right hemisphere and each hemisphere control movements on the same side of the body. Therefore, any damage to the left hemisphere automatically disrupts the movement of the left arm or leg.

Sometimes excessive alcohol also affects the structures at the base of the cerebellum. These regions regulate the eye movements and especially when both eyes and head are in motion. Any damage to these region causes slippage of the visual image and ultimately results in visual illusions and postural instability.

Effects of alcohol in an unborn

It is very much clear that alcohol has a negative and an adverse effect on the brain of an individual. But do you know that if a mother consumes alcohol during her pregnancy, the effects of alcohol can be life threatening for an unborn??

Exposure to alcohol during pregnancy can cause persistent abnormalities in physical and cognitive development. Ethanol is said to be the main constituent of alcoholic beverages that spreads toxicity. It affects synaptogenesis and prevents the proper development of the brain. Alcohol is capable of inducing developmental abnormalities in the fetus. In fact, exposure to alcohol is one of the most common causes of birth defects.

If a woman consumes alcohol during pregnancy, she increases the risk that her baby will born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is a medical condition that occurs in a person whose mother drank alcohol at the time of pregnancy and it is characterized by behavior problems, low intelligence, poor coordination, abnormal appearance, low body weight, and problems with hearing and seeing. Sometimes exposure to alcohol can lead to the death of a fetus.


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Jim Carson

Jim Carson is the writer for the mental health section of He is certified in clinical mental health counselling and has conducted cognitive behaviour therapy for war veterans struggling with PTSD. Professionally and personally, Jim is an astute observer of human behaviour that reflects well in his work.