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Here’s How Alcohol Changes Your Brain as You Age

by Drishti Ranjan

Here’s How Alcohol Changes Your Brain as You Age

April 16, 2021

Mortality is the limit that everything comes down to. Science has progressed, but not enough to stop ageing, and eventual death. The effects of ageing are portrayed across the different human body-parts and the subsequent things it affects too. The brain, cells, cognition all are affected by the ramifications of ageing.

Ageing is ultimately inevitable, but how well one’s body takes it is what makes the difference. As we age, the size of the brain shrinks, the memory declines, and we are more susceptible to the possibility of strokes and other brain-related problems.

This entire process of ageing better is influenced by outside factors too, apart from the internal ones like genes, etc. One of the major factors affecting this is alcohol. The impact of alcohol on your body changes depending on your age and the amount you are consuming.

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For people who have alcohol use disorder, binge drink, or have been using alcohol for many years, brain changes affecting cognitive function and mood can become severe and debilitating.

Effect of Alcohol on The Brain

This impact can be classified into two parts- one being an immediate one (in the form of a severe hangover the next day) or in the long run where alcohol aggravates and accelerates the symptoms of brain ageing.

The long-term impact is derived out of multiple parameters like daily consumption level, body’s tolerance, diet etc. Alcohol consumption basically becomes more hard-hitting at old age, because ageing causes structural and functional changes in the brain. The cognitive capabilities get clouded and the cerebral cortex starts to thin.

It is already a well-established fact that the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex are extremely vulnerable to ageing. A brain volume decline in these regions is the reason why there are increased risks of memory impairments. However, a recent research portrayed how alcohol consumption’s added long-term grave impacts especially to these regions. These regions of the brain play an essential part in the functioning of the cognitive aspects, which makes alcohol consumption all the more fatal.  

How Much Alcohol is Too Much Alcohol?

We are aware that all quantities of consumption are not detrimental to health. In fact, low levels of consumption here and there is actually beneficial for the human body!

Anyway, back to setting boundaries. The intensity of the effect on the brain is directly proportional to the amount of alcohol being consumed. Moderate to heavy levels of consumption, which amount to almost four or more drinks on an everyday basis is what crosses the threshold and inches you closer to potential suffering.

Such levels of drinking every day, leads to a reduction in the hippocampal volume. This becomes a matter of concern because this part of the brain is essential for learning and memory keeping. The ethanol present in the alcohol has a neurotoxic effect on the brain which demonstrates a functional and structural malfunction that can lead to the rise of problems like dementia. 

Further, heavy drinking even affects the vascular functions of the brain, owing to the inflammation in response and oxidative stress that dawns once inebriated. After a certain age, this can even result in a heightened risk of heart attacks, problems in the Liver etc.

The toxic effects of alcohol linger in the brain as after effects already; which even give rise to alcohol-related disorders like alcohol poisoning and chronic alcoholism but this even extends to other immediate but temporary impairments that affect an individual’s cognitive and motor functions, that cause difficulty in walking, blurred vision, and impaired memory.

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Alcohol affects your body quickly. It is absorbed through the lining of your stomach into your bloodstream. Once there, it spreads into tissues throughout your body. Alcohol reaches your brain in only five minutes, and starts to affect you within 10 minutes.

Is There Any Way Out of This?

Abstinence or even low consumption of alcohol can potentially prevent these aftermath. The neuropsychological impairments take almost a year of abstinence, but it differs from individual to individual. However, until now, we only have studies that talk about the effect of alcohol and its role in the brain’s ageing. Very little is known about the rate and extent to which people recover specific structural and functional processes after they stop drinking.

Now that you know about the ramifications, you shouldn’t be paranoid about it.  In case you actually want to age like fine wine, that is the only thing you need to avoid!

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