Alcohol is a widely consumed substance that can have effects on the brain, including effects on brain volume and function, particularly when consumed in large quantities.
A new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that even a single drink of alcohol could cause “acute and lasting neuronal changes in the brain.”
Study authors say that their findings suggest that even a single consumption of alcohol could pave the foundation for alcohol addiction, or alcohol use disorder (AUD).
Can You Become Addicted To Alcohol From A Single Drink?
Not necessarily. But researchers at the University of Cologne found that a single drink of alcohol can still have detectable effects on the structure of the brain’s synapses and mitochondria.
Using the genetic model system of the fruit fly, addiction researchers examined the side effects of a single drink of alcohol at the cellular, molecular, and behavioral levels.
They found that ethanol-dependent cellular changes (cellular change caused by alcohol) in mice and fruit flies from a single drink led to increased alcohol consumption and alcohol relapse.
Previous research has also shown that alcohol can reduce the brain’s gray matter and white matter volume. And heavy drinking may cause structural changes to the brain and its functions.
What Parts Of The Brain Does Alcohol Affect?
Alcohol can interfere with the brain’s communication pathways, according to the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Parts of the brain alcohol can affect include the:
- cerebral cortex
Each of these parts of the brain have their own role to play in keeping the brain functioning as it should.
Effects on these different regions of the brain due to alcohol consumption can affect various cognitive functions, both in the short term and over time.
What Are The Effects Of Alcohol On The Brain?
Alcoholic drinks can have a number of cognitive effects. The severity or intensity of these effects can depend on your alcohol intake, the frequency of alcohol use, and other factors.
For example, alcohol can affect:
- mental health
- learning ability
The effects of alcohol on the central nervous system (which includes the brain) can also affect your blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate, and breathing rate.
What Are The Risks Of Drinking Alcohol On The Brain?
Excessive alcohol consumption, including binge drinking, has been associated with brain damage and other acute and lasting signs of brain impairment.
Risks of heavy drinking include:
- alcohol-related blackouts
- memory loss or lapses
- brain shrinkage
- effects on brain development (in teens and young adults)
- altered brain structure
- destruction of brain cells
- alcohol dependence and addiction
Chronic alcohol abuse, or long-term heavy drinking, can also cause lasting alterations in the brain’s neurons and lead to more severe health problems.
An example is Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. This brain disorder, also known as Wernicke’s encephalopathy, is caused by a thiamine deficiency (vitamin B1).
How Long Does It Take For Alcohol Abuse To Affect The Brain?
Alcohol abuse can have short-term and long-term effects on the brain.
The permanence of alcohol’s effects, and the time it takes for them to emerge, will depend on factors related to your alcohol use.
Factors that can affect your risk of alcohol-related brain conditions include:
- the onset of your drinking
- amount of alcohol consumed
- your age
- other co-occurring health conditions
- use of other drugs
- other risk factors for brain disorders
What Help Is Available For Alcohol Abuse?
If you’re concerned about your drinking habits, or that of someone else, there are a number of substance abuse treatment options available.
We understand cost can be a common barrier to addiction treatment.
Therefore, we aim to help inform people with addiction and their loved ones about the best free and low-cost treatment options available for those who are on a budget or lack insurance.
Call To Learn More About Alcohol Treatment
For more information about alcohol abuse, or how to find an alcohol treatment center near you, call our helpline to speak with a specialist today.
Published on September 22, 2022
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- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — Binge Drinking
- Nature — Associations between alcohol consumption and gray and white matter volumes in the UK Biobank
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — Single-dose ethanol intoxication causes acute and lasting neuronal changes in the brain
- U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) — Alcohol and the Brain: An Overview