How Alcohol Affects the Brain: Part II

A doctor looks at a brain scan of an alcoholic patient
November 10, 2014
|   Updated:
August 13, 2023

Many individuals have an idea of the effects that long-term alcohol dependence has on the brain. Alcohol consumption, in most cases, does not cause permanent defects in reasoning, memory, or other forms of cognition. Usually, after a few years of sobriety, brain function return to normal. However, in some cases, long-term alcohol use can result in permanent damage to the brain that can be severe and life-altering, specifically affecting brain cells.

How Does Alcohol Effect Brain Cells?

Brain cells

A major misconception surrounding alcohol is that it kills brain cells. Alcohol does not cause the death of brain cells, instead, alcohol damages the dendrites of the cells located in the Cerebellum. The cerebellum is in charge of voluntary muscle movements such as posture, balance, and coordination, and dendrites are located at the end of each cell. Dendrites allow the flow of communication from the cerebellum to other parts of the body. After heavy alcohol use, dendrites begin to disintegrate and communication from the cerebellum breaks down resulting in what can be a number of long-term effects such as:

  • Asynergia - Loss of coordination of motor movement
  • Dysmetria - Inability to judge distance and when to stop
  • Adiadochokinesia – Inability to perform rapid alternating movements
  • Intention Tremor - Movement tremors
  • Hypotonia - Weak muscles
  • Ataxic Dysarthria - Slurred speech
  • Nystagmus – Abnormal eye movements

Are Alcohols’ Effects on the Brain Permanent?

Women sitting in chair looking out window

For years it was believed that new cell growth was only possible during the early stages of an individual’s life. Scientists believed that once a brain cell was damaged by brain trauma, there was no way of repairing it. However, new studies have shown that new brain cells (neurons) can be generated in adulthood, a process known as neurogenesis. This newfound knowledge allows scientists to further study alcohol-related brain damage and creates possible treatments for Alcohol Use Disorder. It also implies that not all brain cell damage is permanent and cells can repair themselves.

Key Take A-ways

Female doctor smiling

While going out for a drink or two with friends won’t have permanent effects on your brain, drinking alcohol excessively can have serious repercussions. Permanent brain damage can occur when brain cells in the cerebellum are damaged, resulting in motor and muscle functions affected. However, not all damage to brain cells is permanent. Because of neurogenesis, brain cells can repair themselves, allowing an individual to recover from brain damage from alcohol consumption.

Help with AUD

If you or someone you know is suffering from Alcohol Use Disorder, and you are worried about the potential of permanent brain damage, there are many tools and programs available to help. It’s important to seek help from Addiction Treatment Professionals and groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. For additional accountability, Alcohol Monitoring tools like Soberlink which are designed to help people in the fight against alcohol addiction can be the missing piece for lasting recovery.

Learn More About Soberlink

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