Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

The effects of alcohol on the brain can run from mild to very serious.  Learn about the effects of alcohol on the brain, including mental effects of alcohol.

While the negative effects of alcohol on the body, like insomnia, are easily noticeable, the effects of alcohol on the brain may be more subtle. The effects of alcohol on the brain though, lead to many of the effects of alcohol that people take for granted such as difficulty walking, slurred speech and blurred vision, but there can be even more serious effects of alcohol on the brain.

Effects of Alcohol on the Brain - Blackouts and Memory Lapses

If you've ever thought about a night when you had too much to drink and can't remember what happened, you've experienced a blackout. A blackout is one of the effects of alcohol on the brain that impacts memory. Sometimes small details are forgotten and other times whole events are not recalled. Minor memory impairment is one of the effects of alcohol on the brain that can be seen even after only a few drinks.

Drinkers who experience blackout usually do so because of binge drinking. The effects of alcohol on the brain are more severe with binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as 4 or more drinks in two hours for women or five or more drinks in two hours for men. Blackouts are particularly dangerous as people typically commit dangerous acts, like drinking and driving, in the period they later will not remember.

Effects of Alcohol on the Brain - Effects of Alcohol on the Brain of Women

Equal numbers of men as women experience blackouts in spite of the fact that men drink far more often than women. This indicates that the effects of alcohol on the brain are more severe for women, given equal amounts of alcohol. It is thought that all of a woman's organs, as well as her brain are more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol.

The effects of alcohol on the brains of women are thought to be more severe due to differences in size, body fat ratio and an enzyme in the stomach that breaks down alcohol and is four times more active in men than it is in women.

Mental Effects of Alcohol on the Brain - Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

One of the severe mental effects of alcohol is Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, thought to be related to a thiamine deficiency in alcohol addicts. This is an example of one of the effects of alcohol on the brain that can be both debilitating and permanent.

Initially, Wernicke symptoms are seen:

  • Mental confusion
  • Paralysis of the nerves that move the eyes
  • Difficulty with muscle coordination

Following these symptoms, 80% - 90% go on to experience Korsakoff's psychosis as one of the effects of alcohol on the brain. Korsakoff's psychosis is characterized by persistent learning and memory problem.

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Last Updated: 20 June 2016

Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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