Perhaps you’ve made the joke at one point or another after an evening of ridiculous antics and drinking. It goes something like this, “I killed my last two brain cells last night!”
And while sometimes we do things when we drink that makes us feel like an absolute moron, is it actually true?
Does alcohol kill brain cells?
We know that alcohol has a wide-ranging impact on our brain, but most people misunderstand what it actually does.
Alcohol Doesn’t Kill Brain Cells, But It DOES Cause Brain Damage
The way we talk about alcohol damage to our brain and body might be off, but the general idea isn’t. Alcohol does do serious damage to the brain.
Although alcohol doesn’t kill brain cells, it does damage dendrites, the branch-like ends of our brain cells that pass along messages from one neuron to another.
When this happens, we develop cognitive problems. We lose our ability to function properly. It impacts our coordination, sleep, and memory. In more severe cases, brain damage from drinking can lead to coma or death.
Alcohol Stunts Brain Cell Growth
The good news is that alcohol doesn’t kill existing brain cells. The bad news is that it can prevent new brain cells from forming.
Heavy drinking interferes with neurogenesis, the process by which new neurons are formed in the brain.
This process impacts our ability to learn and retain new information.
Cognitive Decline in Moderate to Heavy Drinkers
Studies have shown a direct correlation between moderate and heavy drinking and a decline in cognitive performance and functioning.
Moderate drinkers, defined as individuals who consume between 14 and 21 units per week, were three times as likely to develop right-sided hippocampal atrophy – a condition commonly found in Alzheimer’s sufferers.
That’s all a fancy way of saying, it’s shrinking your hippocampus which leads to serious cognitive problems.
Let’s quickly do the math. The definition of moderate drinking breaks down to an average of 2-3 units of alcohol per day. A pint of beer contains two units of alcohol. Grabbing a beer after work and having a few more on the weekends is enough to put you at risk.
The Hippocampus is Worth Protecting
It’s the region of the brain responsible for memory. It’s what we use to remember facts and events and how to drive home from grandma’s.
Those scary blackout episodes? That’s alcohol doings its thing on your hippocampus.
The bad new is, the more you drink, the more your hippocampus shrinks. When that happens, your memory woes get worse.
Take Care of Your Brain
You don’t have to kill brain cells (which would actually kill YOU) to cause serious damage to your brain.
Eventually, years of moderate or heavy drinking catches up to you.
The best protection against brain shrinkage and damage is to quit drinking. The longer you let it go, the harder it will be to reverse the deterioration.
With early intervention, you can halt the brain impairment and restore some regenerative function of the brain.
The longer you hold off, the more permanent the damage.