I recently read this quote: “If recreational drugs were tools, alcohol would be a sledgehammer.” There are very few cognitive functions or types of behavior that escape the influence of alcohol, and that doesn’t just mean due to total inebriation but only after one or two drinks.

As the dose increases, so does the proportion of impairments that follow – such as increased loss of balance, lack of motor coordination, inability to make good decisions, and memory impairment. Under certain circumstances, the ability to form memories for events that happen while a person is intoxicated can be blocked (blackout).

So, although there are new reports are that say a drink or two a day may elongate your body’s life, it does not enhance your memory. A recent Farmington study conducted by the Association of Alcohol Consumption on Brain Volume indicates that even a few drinks can reduce your total brain volume, and the more alcohol consumed the smaller the total brain volume. This is in contrast to a British cardiovascular disease study that found moderate consumption of alcohol could have a positive impact on your lifespan.  

The body may last longer with moderate consumption of alcohol, but the mind may not. Physical longevity does not equate to mental longevity.

Alcohol interferes with the brain’s ability to form long-term memories, although can leave previously established long-term memories intact, along with the ability to hold new information for brief periods. As the increase in consumption takes place, so does the decrease in ability to retain information, and can produce fragmented memory or blackouts. This is due to a disruption of activity in the hippocampus area of the brain, the part that plays a central role in formation of autobiographical memories.

Excessive drinking is especially damaging to those under 18 years of age, whose brains are still developing, and for the elderly who had been able to control their consumption throughout their life but find it more difficult as they age. Binge drinking for teens is especially damaging.

Research conducted over the past few decades, using animal models, support that alcohol causes memory formation problems in the hippocampus. This research includes behavioral observation, examination of brain tissue, neurons in cell culture, and brain activity of both anesthetized and freely behaving animals. The results found that damage was limited to the C1 region of the hippocampus, the area that forms explicit memories, and severely disrupts the ability of neurons to establish long-lasting responsiveness to signals from other cells.

Since the hippocampus does not operate alone, even impairment to one area can cause problems across the board in other areas of the brain. The frontal lobes, which form short-term as well as long-term memories can also start to erode with the escalation of consumption. There is considerable evidence to suggest that chronic alcohol use damages the frontal lobes and leads to impaired performance that rely on frontal lobe functioning.  “Shrinkage” in brain volume, changes in gene expression, and disruptions in how performing certain tasks affects blood flow in the brain all have been observed in the frontal lobes of alcohol–dependent subjects.

In other words, when you read that moderate alcohol consumption could be good for you, take into consideration the other factors that are not included in those studies. What good is a longer life without a brain to go with it?

This is Ron White, two-time USA Memory Champion 




Brain Connection – Moderate Drinking and Longevity http://brainconnection.positscience.com/offsite/?offsite_url=http://merzenich.positscience.com/

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism – What Happened? Alcohol, Memory Blackouts, and the Brain, by Aaron M. White, Ph.D.: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh27-2/186-196.htm