This has been a debated question and passed-around belief for decades. You’ve likely had it said to you and have probably said it to others, that drinking alcohol kills brain cells, but does it?
The answer is no, drinking alcohol does not kill brain cells. What it does, however, is damage the end of your neurons (your dendrites, the branch-like extensions of your nerve cells), which makes it difficult for your neurons to relay messages.
The reason this occurs is because alcohol is a neurotoxin that can disrupt both communications of the brain and functions of your brain cells. Now, just because you’ve read that drinking alcohol does not kill brain cells does not mean drinking alcohol does not affect your brain.
It is a myth that drinking three beers kills 10,000 brain cells. In the event you’ve ever heard this, you can completely disregard it as a common health myth. What you should regard instead, is that heavy drinking, both short and long term, does affect your brain.
How does alcohol affect the brain?
It’s clear that alcohol affects the brain in a variety of ways including slurred speech, walking, slowed reaction times, blurred vision and impaired memory, some to the point of blacking out. The level of these effects are directly related to how much you’ve had to drink, your age, sex, health, etc.
According to a report published by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, women are affected by alcohol-related blackouts more than men. They report that a study conducted on a group of college students found that “equal numbers of men and women reported experiencing blackouts, despite the fact that the men drank significantly more often and more heavily than the women.
“This outcome suggests that regardless of the amount of alcohol consumption, females are at greater risk than males for experiencing blackouts. A woman’s tendency to black out more easily probably results from differences in how men and women metabolize alcohol.”
While drinking alcohol can have short-term affects on your brain, drinking alcohol excessively over time can have long-term affects such as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, an acute alcohol-related brain dysfunction that occurs in people who are severely deficient in thiamine, which is another effect of long-term alcohol consumption, since excessive drinking makes it difficult for your body to absorb the nutrient.