What alcoholism does to your brain

Do We Know What Alcoholism Does to Your Brain?

Alcohol abuse has been a part of human culture for about as long as humans have known how fermentation works. We’ve had centuries, millennia even, to witness what alcoholism does to your brain. But it’s only been the past several decades when science really began to understand the damage  and changes at the cellular and molecular level. What we have learned about alcoholism in just the past 30 or 40 years has led to a steep decline in casual heavy drinking when compared to the past.

Changes in Drinking Behavior

The 3-martini lunch is no longer socially acceptable in most circles in western culture, for example. It’s not nearly as ordinary for someone to have several hard drinks after work every evening now. Once upon a time not so long ago, that was the norm. So we can see our culture has responded to what we have learned about alcoholism from observation and confirmed with science. This is a positive development any way you look at it. In this article, Riverwalk Recovery Center will explore what we’ve learned and how we got here.

What Alcoholism Does to Your Brain: Behavior and Symptoms 

When looking at what alcoholism does to your brain, it’s simplest to start with the outward signs and symptoms. What we know is that alcohol interferes with signal transmission in the brain while you’re under the influence. It causes malfunctions in the parts of the brain that controls judgement, balance, speech and memory. Many of us have first-hand experience of the results that can unfold.

Why it Matters

All of those faculties are essential to everyday life. When they aren’t working properly, we can easily make bad decisions or stumble and fall and become injured. The effects on memory are a tragic double-edged sword. Not only do they lead to mistakes, but they also make it harder for us to learn from them. It may take years of moderate to heavy drinking to see the worst physical effects to the brain. However, the negative effects of alcohol begin to take a toll on the functioning of the brain immediately.

Here is what alcoholism does to your brain in the short-term:

  • Lowering in inhibitions and judgement.
  • Compromised balance and perception.
  • Negative effects on short-term memory.
  • Blackouts leading to lack of learning from mistakes.

What Alcoholism Does to Your Brain: Health and Biology

The interference with the normal, everyday functioning of the brain is only the beginning. Most people know that drinking causes real and permanent damage to the brain over time. A person who drinks a moderate to heavy amount for 5, 10 years or more will begin to see these effects. How quickly the effects appear and which ones do depend on a few things. Just how much you are drinking. How often you drink. How many years you are drinking for. Your weight and general physical health. Even your genetic play a role. Your liver is the main organ responsible for processing alcohol and it sees it’s fair share of damage, but alcohol and it’s byproducts in your bloodstream has very real effects on the brain over time.


What Alcoholism Does to your Brain Health in the Medium-Term:

  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) damage caused to developing fetus’ brain in pregnant mothers who drink.
  • Developmental disabilities caused by drinking alcohol at an early age while brain is developing.

What Alcoholism Does to your Brain Health in the Long-Term:

  • Hepatic Encephalopathy, brain disorder caused by liver malfunction due to alcoholism.
  • Wernicke Korsakoff psychosis, also known as ‘wet brain’ caused in part by nutrient deficiencies in the brain.
  • Permanent memory loss.
  • Neurological problems relating to nerve endings.
  • Shrinking of neurons in the brain affecting cognition.

The lists above are far from complete and they cover only what you could expect to see in terms of brain effects from alcoholism. It would take another entire article to cover the damage alcoholism does to the rest of the body from the internal organs to the skin and nervous system. What we do know is the sooner we can halt alcoholism in it’s tracks, the better the chances for a complete recovery. Not all of the damage mentioned above has to be permanent.


The sooner you act, the better the chances of returning to a healthy state of body and mind. Like the rest of the body, the brain has a miraculous capability to heal and repair itself. But only if we help it along by changing behaviors which are slowly but surely destroying it. Millions of people just like you and the one you love have recovered from seemingly hopeless state of alcoholism. It’s possible for anyone. All it takes a bit of willingness to accept help. If you or someone you love is living with an alcohol use disorder, Riverwalk Recovery Center can help. Give us a call at (423) 264-2600 or connect through our contact page here. Do it now, there isn’t a moment to waste.

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