It’s natural to want to unwind with a few drinks. Maybe you like a highball after a tough workday. It could be a few beers at the batting cages. In other circumstances, you might enjoy cocktails at the club. There isn’t anything wrong with moderate, responsible drinking.
But, when you are doing heavy drinking 5 or more drinks on the same occasion on each of 5 or more days in the past 30 days”—you have developed a dependence on alcohol. You are likely craving alcohol when you don’t drink and have a hard time limiting yourself to a few drinks. You likely find yourself out of control after a couple of drinks.
If this is the case, you need to be worried about the health and well-being of your brain, which is changed and damaged by chronic drinking. You need to research the ways that you can limit your intake so that you can protect your brain from future harm.
It is a fact that drinking has far-reaching effects on the human brain. In the short-term, it may be slurred speech, slowed reaction times, and memory impairment. In the long-term, it may be so severe that a person requires round the clock custodial care.
Multiple factors determine how alcohol affects the brain and to what extent. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism identifies the following factors:
- How much you drink
- How often you drink
- The age at which you first began drinking and how long you have been drinking since
- Your age, level of education, genetic background, and family history of alcoholism
- Whether or not you are at risk because of prenatal alcohol exposure
- Your general health status
After a few drinks, the impairment of alcohol causes is obvious. The more you drink, the more that impairment increases. If you down a ton of alcohol very quickly, especially on an empty stomach, you can blackout. You probably have had blackouts—times when you have been drinking and later cannot remember the events that occurred during that period.
A lot of social drinkers are also binge drinkers and binge drinkers are at higher risk for blackout because they, by definition, drink too much too quickly. Binge drinking is consuming five or more drinks in 2 hours for men, or four or more drinks for women.
Alcohol interferes with the brain’s ability to form new long-term memories. It leaves established long-term memories intact and allows you to keep new information in your memory for a short period of time. This is because alcohol attacks the hippocampus—a part of your brain that plays the central role in forming new memories for events. The more you drink, the more your brain is affected.
The hippocampus sits in the center of your brain and receives information from many of the other regions of the brain. Somehow, the hippocampus connects all of this information together to form new autobiographical memories—memories of what happened to you. When you drink, you disrupt the hippocampus’ ability to do so.
In addition, because the hippocampus operated in conjunction with other areas of the brain, alcohol, and drugs can further impair the hippocampus by affecting the other parts of the brain that it communicates with.
When you drink, you may experience what scientists call en bloc blackouts—stretches of time where you have absolutely no memory. You may also or instead experience fragmentary blackouts—where the memory loss is spotty. Either way, your brain’s function is being changed by your drinking. Those changes can lead to permanent damage.
If you are experiencing blackouts and you are concerned that you are doing real harm to your brain, it is time to stop drinking.