For years, research scientists and the medical community have known that there are negative long-term effects of heavy alcohol consumption, but until recently, they’d not yet studied what overconsumption of alcohol does to the brain long-term. Recent studies have pointed to significant brain damage as a result of heavy alcohol consumption. They’ve found that heavy drinking can’t kill brain cells as previously believed, but it does damage the dendrites, the branch-like ends of the brain cells, which are key components in passing messages from one neuron to another. Any degradation of the dendrites may cause significant cognitive impairment. The research also suggests that any dendrite damage may be reversed with specific, targeted therapies and training, but there are no guarantees that those treatments will work in every case. Differing levels of damage can result in different outcomes.
Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is a brain disorder that alcoholics could develop. In this condition, memory impairment, significant confusion, eye paralysis, and decreasing levels of muscle coordination significantly lessen the quality of life for those affected. In contrast to the previously discussed condition, this syndrome does not lead to dendrite damage because it isn’t the result of the alcohol specifically. It occurs due to a thiamine deficiency.
Thiamine, an important B vitamin, is crucial to neuron health. Consuming large quantities of alcohol leads to a thiamine deficiency by disrupting the body’s ability to absorb it. Alcoholics tend to drink rather than eat most of their calories, thus, become malnourished. That malnourishment adds to the depletion of thiamine reserves in the body.
For years, we’ve been led to believe that brain cells are destroyed with high alcohol consumption. That is a myth. Also, there is no evidence that moderate alcohol consumption kills brain cells or damages them in any way. In order to actually kill brain cells, one would have to consume a fatal amount of alcohol, thus, killing themselves in the process. While it’s now noted that there can be significant brain damage, none of the current evidence points to any actual brain cell damage. However, as noted previously, there is a strong correlation between consuming large quantities of alcohol and major impairments.
There is also strong evidence that heavy consumption of alcohol leads to a vast array of social and socioeconomic problems.
As with any potentially harmful substance, there are risks that need to be considered. Follow the healthcare guidelines to avoid these complications. If you believe you may have a problem regarding your consumption of alcohol, seek help before it’s too late. Much of the damage done as a result of heavy drinking cannot be reversed, so be proactive in your healthcare and seek help when needed. Heavy alcohol consumption may be seen as a harmless norm, but healthcare professionals and those struck with significant impairments due to overconsumption know all too well just how life-altering the seemingly harmless substance can be.
For more information about alcohol and how it can affect you, seek counsel from your healthcare provider and get the answers and resources you need to live a long, full life.
By Harold Levi