Excessive alcohol consumption and excessive alcohol consumption can cause permanent damage to the brain and nervous system. Over time, alcohol abuse can cause permanent brain damage. Vitamin supplements and complete abstinence from alcohol can reverse symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome for the first 2 years after you stop drinking. Alcohol has short- and long-term effects.
Drinking a small amount can help people feel relaxed, but too much, too often, can be harmful to health. Alcohol can permanently damage the brain, but it's possible to stop or reverse alcohol-related brain damage. The shrinkage of any part of the brain is worrisome, but the damage caused by alcohol is especially worrisome, since some of the shrinkage is likely due to cell death. Once brain cells die, the effect of brain damage is permanent.
Fortunately, some of the changes in the alcoholic brain are due to cells simply changing size in the brain. Once an alcoholic has stopped drinking, these cells return to their normal volume, demonstrating that some alcohol-related brain damage is reversible. Alcohol has a profound effect on complex brain structures. It blocks chemical signals between brain cells (called neurons), causing the most common immediate symptoms of intoxication, such as impulsive behavior, difficulty speaking, poor memory, and slow reflexes.
1,2 If excessive alcohol consumption continues for a long period of time, the brain adapts to the blocked signals by responding more dramatically to certain brain chemicals (called neurotransmitters). Once alcohol leaves the system, the brain continues to overactivate neurotransmitters, causing painful and potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms that can damage brain cells.1,2,3 This damage is compounded by excessive alcohol consumption and sudden withdrawal, 1.4 Brain damage caused by alcohol can take several forms. The first is neurotoxicity, which occurs when neurons overreact to neurotransmitters for too long. Excessive exposure to a neurotransmitter can cause neurons to eventually run out.
In addition to damage to the pathways, brain matter itself is also damaged by excessive alcohol consumption. People who depend on alcohol often experience brain shrinkage, which consists of reducing the volume of both gray matter (cell bodies) and white matter (cellular pathways) over time. 1,2.5 There are some subtle differences in the way brain damage occurs in men and women, but regardless of gender, the loss of brain matter increases with age and the amount of alcohol consumed, 2,6,7.