Your Brain on Alcohol
Alcohol’s toxic effect on the brain is readily communicated by this MRI scan comparing a normal brain to that of an alcoholic:
As you can see, the alcoholic brain on the right is massively shrunken due to brain cell loss.
While visiting Chicago recently, was reminded just how much alcohol is a part of young people’s lives. As you drive through Wrigleyville, Downtown, Lincoln Park, Andersonville you can’t help but notice bars are everywhere. Unfortunately, when many students drink, they do it to excess- i.e., they binge. What I wish I could tell all students is that the overwhelming amount of research clearly indicates binge drinking is very bad for your brain and will seriously impair your ability to learn and get good grades- both in the short and long term. From a 2007 study that appeared in the European Journal of Neuroscience:
These findings indicate that binge pattern exposure to ethanol during adolescence induces brain damage by inflammatory processes and causes long-lasting neurobehavioural consequences.
Here’s the conclusions from another study looking at binge drinking in young adults [Reference 2 below]:
…differences can be seen in mood and cognitive performance between those that binge drink and those that do no
And it’s not just college students. According to the National Institutes of Health, almost 1 out of 10 Americans meet standard diagnostic criteria for an alcohol use disorder.
The latest bit of alcohol-brain atrophy research comes from Carol Ann Paul (of Wellesley College) and colleagues. They looked at MRI brain scans of 1839 people aged 34 to 88, and their findings (presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 59th Annual Meeting in Boston May 2007) indicate the more you chronically drink, the more your brain volume decreases. The results held true even for moderate drinkers.
According to Carol:
There is a continuous negative correlation between alcohol consumption and total brain volume. It seems that there is not a beneficial effect of even small amounts of alcohol on brain volume.
For an earlier story about how alcohol knocks the teenage brain off its growth trajectory, click here.
Reference 1: Paul CA et al. "The Effect of Alcohol Consumption on Total BrainVolume: The Framingham Heart Study." Abstract P05.030, presented May 2.
Reference 2: Townshend JM, Duka T. Binge Drinking, cognitive performance and mood in a population of young social drinkers. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2005 Mar;29(3):317-25.