It’s no secret that alcohol can wreak havoc on the human body. Dehydration, liver damage, and dependency are just some of the well-known issues that can be caused by alcohol. But what about dementia? The links between alcohol and dementia are something that isn’t discussed enough and isn’t common knowledge among the general public. However, the connections to the two have been proven.
How Alcohol Generally Affects the Brain
WebMD breaks down how alcohol affects your brain each time you have a drink. When you have a drink, within thirty seconds you already have alcohol affecting your brain. Some of the quicker effects include changes in mood, sluggish reflexes, and impaired balance. Short-term memory is also affected, hence why people tend to not remember a night of drinking the following morning. You also won’t get a restful sleep, as an alcohol-induced snooze doesn’t allow your brain to achieve REM/deep sleep. In addition, booze sleeping also leaves you more prone to nightmares as well as midnight bathroom visits.
The following morning, the alcohol you drank the night before still isn’t done causing damage. Alcohol causes dehydration as well as expands blood vessels in the brain. This causes the classic headache and dry mouth you get when you’re hungover. On top of the effects on sleep and blood in the brain, alcohol can also affect hearing. A rather unspoken of brain-related effect, hearing loss related to heavy drinking is something that needs to be studied further. Scientists still aren’t sure if this loss of hearing is caused by nerve damage in the ear or damage to the areas of your brain that are related to hearing.
Long-term effects on the brain caused by alcohol include brain cell shrinkage. The brain of a heavy drinker and a non-drinker are night and day; the heavy drinker’s brain will have trouble thinking straight, retaining new information, and remembering things, even when sober.
How Alcohol and Dementia Are Linked
Harvard Health has identified a clear link between overconsumption of alcohol and a higher risk of developing dementia. This link was shown only in heavy drinkers, with moderate drinkers being able to avoid many of the long-term mental health effects that alcohol causes. Harvard identifies a “moderate drinker” as someone who has just one drink a day – whether that be a bottle of beer while watching the game or a glass of wine with dinner.
Harvard conducted a 30-year study, beginning in 1985, to see how drinking affected the brain in the long-term. Participants kept logs of their drinking habits, as well as were routinely tested to check their memory, rational thinking skills, and speaking skills. At the end of the three decades, their brains were scanned in an MRI. The results showed that those that drank ended up with a smaller hippocampus – the part of the brain related to critical thinking and memory. The results ultimately found that heavy drinkers were six times more likely to have a shrunken hippocampus compared to those who didn’t drink at all. Moderate drinkers were three times more likely.
The effects of alcohol on the brain can be devastating. The brain is connected to every other part of your body; damage sustained there is felt everywhere else. If you’d like to learn more about how alcohol and the brain are connected, you can learn about alcohol induced dementia here.