How Alcohol Affects The Brain & What To Do About It

Let’s dive into how alcohol impacts the brain in general. “I’m very honest when I say no amount of alcohol is good for the brain,” Nicola states. This may not come as a surprise to everyone, but it’s important to note nevertheless. 

Nicola clarifies that “good for the brain” means serving the brain in any positive way. But many folks have a drink in the evening to wind down and (so they think) sleep better. Is this true, or is it an illusion? Sorry to say, research points to the latter.

When you look at the composition of alcohol, the main ingredient that makes you feel relaxed at first and drunk after a few drinks is ethanol. That calming feeling is actually the sedative impact of ethanol, Nicola explains. “Sedating is very different from sleeping,” she states. “So if you drink, you actually block deep sleep and REM sleep, so you don’t even get into those stages.” In other words: You may feel sleepier and fall asleep faster after a few drinks, but the quality of sleep you get is likely quite poor.

Now, let’s chat brain health in general: When it comes to moderate drinking, which research1 describes as seven drinks for women and 14 drinks for men per week (in total), brain damage is totally a possibility. With that level of drinking, research shows you can have low-level brain damage, she adds. 

The 2022 study1 Nicola references found that alcohol intake is negatively associated with global brain volume measures, regional gray matter volumes, and white matter microstructure. The affected brain regions include the frontal cortex, amygdala, and brain stem, to name a few—regions associated with creativity, memory, judgement, motor tasks, emotional regulation, heart rate, sleep, and more. 

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