Alcohol’s effects on memory and the brain can be good or bad depending on when and how you consume. Learn how alcohol affects present and future brain health.
Somewhere along the line you may have heard that every drink you take destroys brain cells.
Conversely, you’ve also heard that drinking alcohol can help you live a long and healthy life, and possibly protect your brain from age-related mental decline.
So what is the truth about alcohol and memory loss?
Does alcohol destroy, or preserve, your brain and your capacity to remember?
Let’s take a look at what the latest evidence shows, both good and bad, about alcohol and memory loss.
Benefits of Moderate Alcohol Intake on Memory
There is irrefutable evidence that moderate alcohol consumption is good for your overall health and that includes brain health and function. (1)
Alcohol plays a role in the traditional diets of some of the longest-lived people on earth.
It is regularly consumed in the three countries with the most centenarians — France, Italy and Japan.
In both France and Italy, wine, especially red wine, is an integral part of the daily diet.
Red wine’s polyphenols remove protein plaques that accumulate in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients. (5)
Red wine is also a key part of the diet on the Greek island of Ikaria — one of the world’s Blue Zones.
Blue Zones are places where the people experience extraordinary health and mental sharpness well into old age — 90’s and above.
Ikarians have significantly less depression and dementia than the rest of the world. (6)
Resveratrol, a potent antioxidant found in red wine, is isolated and sold as a brain supplement to improve memory and protect against age-related mental decline.
✓Mind Lab Pro Brain Supplement Optimizes brain health, supports memory, focus & mood
Sake, a rice-based alcoholic beverage, is a part of the traditional Japanese diet.
The people of Japan are more likely to live to be 100 than anywhere else on earth. (7)
A cup of sake with mugwort tea is a regular nightcap of seniors who live in Okinawa, another of the world’s Blue Zones. (8)
There’s evidence that consuming alcohol in general offers health benefits. (11)
Xanthohumol is a flavonoid found in hops, a main ingredient in beer, that can improve memory.
✓Antioxidant Supplements See Amazon.com for best selection and value
Champagne is high in a type of antioxidant called polyphenols.
36 Proven Ways to Improve Your Memory
Alcohol Protects Your Memory Later in Life
Drinking moderately throughout adulthood protects your brain later in life. (15)
It seems it’s never too late to reap the benefits of alcohol for a healthy brain.
Seniors 75 and older decrease their risk of dementia by up to 60% and Alzheimer’s by over 40% by continuing to drink moderately. (16)
Moderate Alcohol Consumption Defined
What you drink — beer, wine, champagne or hard liquor — doesn’t seem to be nearly as important as how you drink.
Where you see evidence that drinking offers health benefits you’ll notice that the modifier “moderate” usually goes along with it.
It’s common sense that having one drink every day does not have the same effect on your brain as having 7 drinks once a week on a Saturday night. (17)
But what exactly does moderate drinking mean?
The official definition differs around the world.
In the US, the official moderate guidelines are one daily drink for women and two for men.
✓Stress Relief Supplements See Amazon.com for best selection and value
But is this number the “gold standard”?
In wine-drinking countries like France and Spain, the government guidelines are more lenient allowing two daily drinks for women and four for men.
Is it a coincidence that people in these countries are healthier with lower rates of alcoholism than in the US? (18)
In Ikaria, people well into their 90’s push the limit of moderate drinking, often having 4 glasses of red wine each day.
You can find a complete list of drinking guidelines around the world at the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking.
The next question that needs answering is “what constitutes one drink?”
It’s widely accepted that 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor constitute one drink.
Why Alcohol Guidelines Differ for Men and Women
You’ll notice the alcohol guidelines for men and women differ.
This is not just because men on average are larger.
Due to gender differences in hormones and enzymes, women metabolize alcohol more slowly and consequently get drunk on a lower intake. (19)
A woman absorbs roughly 30% more alcohol into her bloodstream than a man of the same weight who has consumed an equal amount of alcohol. (20)
Choosing Memory Supplements That Work
How Alcohol Causes Memory Loss
There’s an overwhelming body of evidence that moderate drinking promotes health, but the same can’t be said of “immoderate” drinking.
The slurred speech, glassy eyes, stumbling, fumbling, and poor judgment experienced when drunk makes it painfully obvious how significantly alcohol temporarily affects the brain.
But there is no evidence to support the myth that occasional overindulging kills brain cells.
It’s not the brain cells themselves, it’s the dendrites — the nerve connections between brain cells — which are most affected by alcohol.
Alcohol’s side effects are caused by impaired communication between brain cells which slows down the central nervous system.
But the brain cells themselves are generally left unharmed unless there is long-term alcohol abuse.
While drinking in excess can be a problem for anyone, there are two groups most susceptible to memory loss caused by excess drinking — young people and seniors.
Key Vitamins for Memory: Deficiencies Are Common
SUBJECT: Sharper thinking, better mood
Movies like Limitless and Lucy have fueled an interest in the power of nootropics. Nootropics are substances that claim to make you smarter, highly focused, and more productive.
But many of the products containing these substances are neither helpful nor harmless.
We've looked closely at the market and found a supplement that combines many of the most effective, safe and natural brain enhancers we know.
These enhancers work with your brain's own neurotransmitters to really improve your mental energy, clarity, focus and mood. Read more about it below.
Deane & Dr. Pat
Students and Binge Drinking
Binge drinking is a huge problem on college campuses.
Unfortunately this phenomenon has trickled down to high schools as well. (25)
Excess alcohol impairs the activity in brain receptors responsible for learning, putting young people at high risk for memory loss.
And not all the damage is immediately evident.
Binge drinking in youth can increase memory loss later in life.
Here are the Center for Disease Control’s definitions of binge drinking and heavy drinking. (28)
Binge drinking is defined as:
- 4 or more drinks at a time for women.
- 5 or more drinks at a time for men.
Heavy drinking is defined as:
- 8 or more drinks per week for women.
- 15 or more drinks per week for men.
Alcohol Blackout — Extreme Memory Loss
College students are at high risk for alcohol-induced blackout — drinking to the point of having little or no memory of blocks of time. (29)
During a blackout you may still be able to talk, party and frighteningly drive a car, but you’re unable to form new long-term memories. (30)
The morning after you may not remember last night’s party, not because you forgot but because you never formed memories in the first place.
Memory Problems: Normal or Serious?
Alcohol and Memory Loss in Seniors
While moderate drinking can help keep seniors mentally sharp, years of heavy drinking take their toll.
One large study of 7,000 seniors found that those who had 2.5 daily drinks (considered heavy drinking) experienced memory loss six years sooner than those who drank moderately. (31)
✓Hypnosis Live Change your mind & your life - 200+ professional self-hypnosis MP3s
Alcohol is responsible for alcohol-related dementia, the second most common cause of dementia after Alzheimer’s.
Alcohol-related dementia accounts for 10% of all dementia cases. (32)
Memory Loss from Chronic Alcohol Abuse
People of all ages who chronically abuse alcohol can develop alcohol-related brain damage, also called alcohol-related brain impairment (ARBI).
Heavy drinkers report 30% more memory problems than light drinkers.
They are more likely to miss appointments, forget birthdays, leave appliances on, and misplace everyday items. (35)
One side effect of chronic alcohol abuse is malnutrition.
A deficiency in thiamine (vitamin B1) can result in a neurological disorder known as Wernicke encephalopathy (WE).
Alcohol abusers are often unrealistic about their memory loss and think their memory is much better than it actually is. (37)
Friends and family are much better judges of the seriousness of the problem.
The Connection Between Statins and Memory Loss
The Brain Benefits of Giving Up Alcohol
Nearly 30% of Americans have a problem with alcohol at some point in their lives, ranging from binge drinking to full-blown alcoholism. (38)
It can contribute to dementia and Alzheimer’s later in life.
Until recently it was believed that alcohol-related brain damage was irreversible, but this is now known to not be true.
The brain is remarkably resilient and has the capability to grow new brain cells and heal.
Your brain’s ability to change throughout your lifetime is known as neuroplasticity.
✓Mind Lab Pro Brain Supplement Optimizes brain health, supports memory, focus & mood
Even when alcohol abuse has altered the size, structure and function of the brain, the damage can be reversed surprisingly fast.
After just one day of alcohol abstinence, some increase in gray matter can be detected.
After only two weeks of abstinence, the brain measurably increases in volume leading to significantly better cognitive function. (41)
Long periods of alcohol abstinence can restore even a heavy drinker’s brain back to normal. (42)
Alcohol and Memory Loss: The Bottom Line
Alcohol consumption is a regular part of the diet of the healthiest and most long-lived people in the world.
When consumed moderately it increases health, longevity, and brain function.
It protects the brain from age-related memory loss and mental decline, including dementia and Alzheimer’s.
What kind of alcohol you drink is not as important as your drinking pattern.
Binge drinking is particularly hard on young brains that are not yet fully formed.
Heavy drinking causes older brains to decline years sooner.
But fortunately, it’s never too late to repair your brain from alcohol-related damage.
By abstaining, you can start building new brain cells and return your brain to a healthier state.