Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

Excessive alcohol use has claimed the lives of more than 90,000 people throughout the nation every year. This equals about 261 deaths every day. Around 15,000,000 people in the U.S.A. have an alcohol use disorder

Even though many alcohol-related deaths are caused by suicides, poisoning, overdose, car crashes and various other accidents, these aren’t the only negative consequences that can occur from over-consuming alcohol. Alcohol abuse can cause many short and long-term physical and mental health problems, as well. 

Many body organs can be affected including the person’s brain. Studies have shown that brain damage caused by even short-term alcohol abuse can lead to:

  • Poor coordination
  • Memory impairments 
  • Slowed motor functioning 
  • Impaired judgment

Similar studies have been done to show how long-term alcohol abuse can impact the brain and body. The results are as follows:

  • Liver disease
  • Heart disease
  • Many types of cancer
  • Permanent brain damage
  • Learning deficits
  • Mental health disorders
  • Memory issues
  • Dementia 

There is a possibility that with addiction treatment someone can improve their overall health, including brain functions in certain circumstances. 

Does alcohol consumption damage the brain?

In the central nervous system, alcohol can cause numerous adverse effects on critical regions including the brain, nerves and spinal cord. After just a couple of alcoholic beverages, these negative consequences might occur. However, some consequences may take a bit more time to develop. 

  • Age- The developing brain during the teenage years is very vulnerable to the effects of alcohol.
  • Amount and frequency- Binge drinking, heavy drinking, and overall chronic alcohol abuse are all very harmful.
  • Prenatal alcohol exposure- Exposure during pregnancy has the potential to cause fetal alcohol syndrome. It affects the fetus’s developmental, cognitive, and behavioral development. 
  • General health status- It creates long-term and short-term mental and physical health issues.
  • Gender- Women are more susceptible to suffering many of the mental and physical health effects of alcohol than men.

Which parts of the brain does alcohol effect?

Alcohol can have adverse effects on various parts of the brain, especially the ones that control vital functions such as memory, motor control, emotions, body temperature, breathing and senses. 

Cerebral Cortex 

This is the think tank for the brain. It processes information, helps people make decisions, improves judgment and much more. Alcohol use slows how much information can be put into this part of the brain. It also slows the functioning of this area, too, which can cause slurred speech, cloudy thinking and lowered inhibitions. If someone is a long-term, heavy drinker, they may experience permanent cerebral cortex damage. 


This is the area of the brain that controls balance, movement and coordination. Consuming alcohol affects this part of the brain causing unsteadiness, shakiness, staggering and an increased risk of falls.

Hypothalamus and Pituitary 

These two areas of the brain link hormonal processes with the nervous system to maintain internal balance. When someone consumes alcohol, it disrupts the balance causing sexual performance and desire issues. 


This is the area of the brain that controls body temperature, breathing, consciousness and other related functions. By depressing medulla signals through the use of alcohol, life-threatening effects such as lower body temperature, sleepiness, slowed breathing and coma can occur. 


This is the part of the brain that controls memory. When someone consumes alcohol in excess, they will likely experience learning deficits, blackouts and memory loss. Chronic alcohol consumption can cause permanent memory loss and even lead to alcohol-related dementia. 

What are some of the long-term effects of alcohol on a person’s brain?

Chronic alcohol use can lead to permanent brain damage and other damage in the body, too. Some of these issues that may occur are as follows. 

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms 

When someone who is dependent on alcohol tries to stop drinking, they can go through serious withdrawal symptoms such as hallucinations and seizures. These symptoms can lead to brain damage. Those who use alcohol for a long time can also experience delirium tremens. Due to the severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, our Riverwalk team highly recommends getting help in overcoming your addiction. 


Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals responsible for communicating between the different areas of a person’s brain. When consuming alcohol, the substance causes mental confusion, low energy and other problems. 

Brain structure

Drinking heavily can lead to shrinkage of the brain. It can also cause a reduction in the gray and white matter within the brain. 

Cognitive impairment

Research has shown that drinking alcohol excessively can negatively impact cognitive functions such as concentration, memory, speech and learning. It can also impact problem-solving, impulse control and the increased risk of developing alcohol-related dementia. In addition, when someone drinks alcohol long-term, it will be much more difficult for them to overcome the alcohol use disorder on their own. If you find this is the case for you, don’t hesitate to contact us here at Riverwalk Recovery for help today. 

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome 

About 8 out of every 10 people that excessively consume alcohol do have a thiamine deficiency. This deficiency can lead to a severe brain disorder – Warnicke-Korsakoff syndrome or wet brain. Some symptoms that a person might experience with this condition include:

  • Jerky eye movements
  • Nerve paralysis
  • Mental confusion
  • Poor coordination and balance 
  • Mood changes
  • Memory issues
  • Poor judgment 

Does alcohol kill brain cells?

Experimental and clinical studies have shown that drinking alcohol excessively damages white matter within the brain. It causes brain shrinkage, too. Some of the things that may be damaged include a person’s thinking processes, movement, message transmitting functions and even more. If someone does have brain damage due to alcoholism, they have a higher risk of experiencing diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, stroke and high blood pressure, too. 

The good news is this research suggests that some brain damage might be able to be reversed, especially if someone stops drinking before the age of 50.


Get Help for an Alcohol Use Disorder Today

The brain does play a vital role in regulating various aspects of the body including movements, decision-making, behavior, sleep patterns, emotions and more. Therefore, it is crucial that anyone who is struggling with alcoholism or alcohol dependency gets professional alcohol addiction help. By doing this, you can reduce the alcohol dangers on your body and stop future alcohol effects on the body, as well. 
Contact us today, here at Riverwalk Recovery, to get help for an alcohol use disorder or alcohol addiction right away.