Add Alcohol and The Brain Begins Shrinking
Recent studies suggest that even light alcohol use can accelerate brain shrinkage. particularly in women. Brain size in women as it relates to drinking is inversely correlated in proportion to the amount of alcohol consumed. For example, former drinkers have smaller brains than abstainers, but have larger brains than those who continually drink light to moderately. This is not that surprising considering women in general have a lower tolerance to the effects of alcohol for biological reasons.
Men, however, are apparently more brain-resilient when it comes to drinking, and are most affected by heavy drinking. Keep in mind that men are not necessarily more immune to the effects of alcohol – they are actually heavier drinkers, on average, than women. However, they may be less susceptible to brain damage.
Long-term alcohol use has long been associated with permanently altered brain chemistry. The longer and more we drink, the more our brains are affected by the changes.
The exact mechanism behind alcohol and brain shrinkage is not fully understood, but moderate to heavy alcohol consumption can lead to dehydration, which has detrimental effects on any bodily tissue. The frontal lobe region of the brain, responsible for emotional control and processing, is very susceptible to diminution.
Still, correlation of alcohol and brain shrinkage is often relatively minor, and does not necessarily have to cause cognitive defects or memory lapses. Furthermore, some damage and shrinkage can often be repaired if the person abstains from drinking. In two weeks the brain can bounce back, with continued improvements made during sobriety. But of course, the extent to which the brain can recover depends on age, level of consumption, and individual factors.
One reason for this fact may be genetics. In laboratory trials, mice were exposed to heavy alcohol consumption. It was discovered that mice lacking the gene for the dopamine D2 receptor had lower brain masses than those with normal receptors. These receptors are mood regulators, and are thought to be responsible for protection against alcohol-induced brain damage.
While heavy alcohol consumption can lead to brain shrinkage and other damage, it is not a foregone conclusion. Nor is it impossible for light-moderate drinkers to experience this effect. Also, persons who abstain from alcohol completely can have brain shrinkage or be susceptible to other types of age-related brain dysfunction, such as Alzheimers. Whereas alcohol is estimated to account for 10% of brain shrinkage, aging itself is responsible for 30%.
Alcohol consumption is just one factor which can lead to a deterioration in mental and physical health. Avoiding alcohol does not guarantee mental wellness, but drinking alcohol is a controllable variable that need not be present. Almost certainly, drinking alcohol provides minimal or no protection from most diseases, and may only serve as a detriment to brain functioning and overall well-being. Aging is inevitable, but alcohol is a factor which can be minimized or avoided altogether.
If you or someone you know is an alcoholic, please seek help immediately.