Alcohol & Your Brain Shrinkage
Alcohol is a diuretic in the same way that caffeine is and therefore leads to dehydration in much the same way as caffeine does. Dehydration of the brain is the basis of a hangover. The more dehydrated your brain the worse your hangover will be. To avoid a hangover try to drink a glass of water between alcoholic drinks.
Further to dehydration of the brain leading to brain shrinkage, the toxic effects of alcohol on the central nervous system have been shown to decrease brain volume over time. As shown in the diagram the areas particularly damaged as a result of alcohol are the:
- Cerebellum – the cerebellum is the part of the brain responsible for muscle coordination. Damage results in difficulties with balance and walking, which is called ‘ataxia’.
- Frontal lobe – the brain’s frontal lobes are involved in abstract thinking, planning, problem solving and emotion. Damage results in cognitive difficulties.
- Temporal lobe – this includes a loss of short-term memory, an inability to acquire new information and ‘confabulation’ (the person fills in gaps in their memory with fabrications that they believe to be true).
The toxic effects of alcohol on the brain are most marked when you do not stick to the safe recommended alcohol limits. The current accepted safe alcohol drinking limits are:
- For healthy men and women, drink no more than 2 standard drinks on any day.
- Try to have at least 2 alcohol-free days a week, preferably consecutive days.
- Drink no more than 4 standard drinks on a single occasion.
- No alcohol is safe for those under the age of 17 years.
- No alcohol is safe for pregnant women.
It can be quite a surprise to realise how much alcohol makes up a standard drink.
Many people drink excessive amounts of alcohol without realising it. One standard drink is found in:
- 100 mls of wine (red or white) – half a wine glass full
- 100 mls of champagne – two thirds of a champagne glass full
- 30 mls of spirits or a ‘nip’ – one quarter a spirit glass full
- 375 mls of mid-strength beer – the amount found in a small bottle or can
Keep in mind that there are around 7.5–8 standard drinks in a bottle of red or white wine, 7.5 standard drinks in a bottle of champagne, 22 standard drinks in a bottle of spirits and 24 standard drinks in a slab of mid strength beer.
Health TIP . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The safe amount of alcohol for an adult is no more than two standard drinks per day on five days of the week with two alcohol free days per week.