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How Alcohol Affects Brain Leads Alcoholism

Updated 24 October 2022 Written by Deborah QuinnClinically Reviewed by Sarah Fletcher, LPC, LAC
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Alcohol and the Brain

Alcohol can have a profound impact on the brain, both in the short term and over time. This is especially true for adolescents and young adults who binge drink, as their brains are still developing.

 
 

Factors that Influence how Alcohol Affects the Brain

A number of factors influence how and to what extent alcohol impacts the brain, including the following:

  • FrequencyHow much and how often a person drinks.
  • Age and HistoryThe age at which he or she first began drinking, and how long he or she has been drinking.
  • Genetics and Family HistoryThe person’s genetic background, and family history of alcoholism.
  • HealthA person’s general health status may be affected with heavy alcohol use.
  • GenderWomen are more vulnerable than men to many of the medical consequences of alcohol use, such as cirrhosis, heart damage, nerve damage, and brain shrinkage.
  • Prenatal alcohol exposureProblems in general intellectual
    functioning, academic skills, deficits
    in verbal learning, memory, reasoning,
    reaction time, balance, and other cognitive and
    motor skills. Some deficits, like problems with
    social functioning, appear to worsen as these
    individuals reach adolescence and adulthood,
    possibly leading to an increased rate of mental
    health disorders.
 

Short-term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

The ways that alcohol impacts the brain during intoxication are fairly familiar:

  • Loss of inhibition
  • Loss of coordination
  • Decreased judgment
  • Decreased memory and reasoning
 
 
 

Long-term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

While we may be familiar with the some of the temporary effects of alcohol on the brain, it is important to know that alcohol can affect the brain long after the initial effects have worn off.

  • Brain shrinkage
  • Memory loss
  • Decreased short-term memory
  • Brain produces fewer feel-good chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin on its own
 
 

New Findings on Teen Binge Drinking

New studies have found that binge drinking in teens leads to damaged brain tissue. Researchers believe that this damage impacts girls’ ability to understand and interpret visual information, and negatively affects boys’ attention spans.

  • The teens whose brains showed signs of damage were only binge drinking one to two times per month.
  • Teen binge drinkers also show damage to their hippocampus, a key area of the brain in memory formation. Reflecting this damage, these teens did more poorly than their non-drinking peers on learning verbal material.
  • It remains to be seen whether this cognitive decline in teen binge drinkers is reversible.
 

Treating Alcohol Abuse

Sandstone Care has a full continuum of care for teens and young adults including a medical detox center & teen residential program. We have outpatient alcohol abuse programs for adolescents and young adults in Colorado, Virginia and Maryland. If you are looking for a teen alcohol rehab program, Sandstone Care may be right for you.

 
 
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Online Treatment Programs

Our virtual IOP program offers the same programming that we offer in person, all online – this is ideal for those who live too far to drive to an addiction center, have transportation issues, or have health concerns that make in-person treatment challenging.

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Let’s take the next steps together

We understand taking the first step is difficult. There is no shame or guilt in asking for help or more information. We are here to support you in any way we can.