Protect your Brain from Too Much Alcohol

by Dr. Kimberly Crooks, PsyD Therapist

Summer is in full swing. For a lot of us this means backyard parties, barbecues, boating and of course the rodeo. Typically, the main choice of beverage for these events is alcohol.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t enjoy ourselves. On the contrary, go ahead and have that beer or margarita. You should just be informed of how these pleasures affect your brain so you can decide whether it is worth the risk.

The effects alcohol has on the body is common knowledge. These include everything from weight gain to cirrhosis of the liver, and those who have experienced a hangover understand how intense that headache can be.

But why do we get those headaches, and what else is going on?

When we drink alcohol, the release of vasopressin is suppressed. Vasopressin is a hormone that tells the kidneys to retain fluid. This loss of fluid leads to dehydration. As the average adult brain is 75% to 85% water, dehydration actually causes the brain to shrink. This shrinkage pulls the brain away from the skull and drags the outside nerves with it, which can cause severe pain (Abrahao, Salinas, & Lovinger, 2017).

Seasoned drinkers learn ways to combat the headaches after a night on the town; however, this only masks what is going on under the surface. Research shows a decrease in gray matter with sustained alcohol use, especially in the regions of the brain involved with decision-making and memory (Le Berre, et al., 2014). I am sure this information comes as no surprise for most of you.

Perhaps the most significant effect that alcohol has on the brain is the impact it has on our memory. Alcohol consumption has been linked to an increase in dementia in numerous studies. Even drinking small amounts of alcohol can inhibit the release of acetylcholine, which is the neurotransmitter responsible for learning and memory (Rehm, et al., 2019).

Now for the good news! The brain is very plastic. This means it has the ability to change, adapt and grow new neural networks. Extensive research shows that neurofeedback can help regain the mental clarity and focus lost by consuming too much alcohol over the years.