Don’t drown your brain in alcohol if you want to maximize your ability to think.
“You can’t change who you are, but you can change what you have in your head, you can refresh what you’re thinking about, you can put some fresh air in your brain.” — Ernesto Bertarelli
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I remember being a senior in high school and going through my Calculus course and thinking that this stuff was relatively easy compared to how people would often talk about it.
Now granted, some of the concepts were a bit foreign and took me a bit longer to grasp than others, but overall when people would say things like, “It’s not Calculus” to refer to something that was relatively easy, I also couldn’t quite understand why they would put Calculus at the opposite end of that spectrum.
Fast forward nine years after college, as I began to prep for the GMAT for business school, and I remember thinking how incredibly fortunate I was that there was no Calculus involved, as I couldn’t even begin to tell you what sine and cosine were and much less the difference in the two.
As I thought about my inability to do such conceptual thinking and geometric reasoning, I chalked it up to the fact that I had not been exposed to it for some 10 odd years since my first college-level math course as a freshman.
The one thought that didn’t occur to me at the time but is now more realized than ever is how much my brain had been changed due to my excessive use of alcohol for the past 12 years and all the poor decisions that had come along with that.
Now, as I eclipse two and half years alcohol-conscious (i.e. sober), I fully realize alcohol is the true reason I didn’t continue to develop intellectually at the same clip that I did in college and that it holds many others back as well.
There are several reasons for this.
Your brain can’t grasp difficult concepts as quickly, if at all.
Using the Calculus example again, there are many concepts in higher-level math that your brain has to kind of “wrap itself around” before you can truly grasp.
Whereas addition and subtraction are considered practical math because you can use your fingers to count to 10 and then subtract three and see that you have seven fingers left, when you begin studying limits and continuity with calculus, your brain is going to have to do the hard work of conceptualizing theories for it to make sense.
When your brain is free from alcohol dilution, it is operating at an extremely high level in which the synaptic clip at which your neurons fire can be up to speeds as high as 70–120 meters per second (156–270 mph).
This allows our brain to process difficult concepts much faster by quickly assessing different possibilities and thinking through what could be the reason for something.
As our optimal brain processes things quickly, we are able to go through all our stored sets of knowledge at a very fast speed to come up with an answer to a problem or a decision.
One of the factors that relate to how fast our brain is able to process different sets of information is the number and size of our neurons. The more and thicker neurons we have, the faster this process takes place.
However, the more we drink excessively, the more our neurons have to work to counterbalance the effects of alcohol by over-activating our neurotransmitters. This over-activation can lead to neurotoxicity and eventually lead to neurons burning out.
This neuron “burning out” doesn’t actually kill the brain cells as was previously theorized, but instead is part of what inhibits the communication between our neurons due to damage to the dendrites in our cerebellum.
This slowing down of the communication then makes it more difficult for your brain to process the information quick enough to make the synaptic connections needed to grasp a difficult concept and is one of the reasons some people may even say their brain “hurts” when trying to grasp information that requires a much higher process speed than which their current brain will allow.
Your brain can’t retain information as well.
It is well known that one of the major effects of drinking is the inability to remember things as readily.
One of the hallmarks of intelligence and difficult thinking is recalling various concepts that one may have learned over time and then putting them together to identify patterns or relationships that will allow that person to then come to a conclusion about a decision.
When someone drinks excessively, we all know there is the chance of short-term memory loss due to blackouts, as we can’t remember what we did the night before.
However, excessive drinking could also greatly affect our long-term memory due to damage done to our hippocampus.
Over time, excessive drinking can shrink our hippocampus, which inhibits our brain’s ability to transfer short-term memory to long-term memory.
When this happens, there can be a host of different information that we can read and study during the day but will have trouble recalling it later because of the damage we will do to our hippocampus later that night.
For me, I finally recognized the effect this was having on me after I stopped drinking, as I found myself recalling much more information from the books that I read than I had in the years before.
Prior to stopping drinking, I would read book after book, but it was challenging for me to always recall specific pieces of information to use in everyday life. I could remember the overall gist of the book fine enough, but when it came to any specific content or ideas, the specific memory of it was not there.
Now that I’ve been alcohol conscious for over two years, I’ve found myself remembering things much easier and quicker than I had before and am able to use that information in everyday decision-making related to business or life — something that has made a world of difference in my intellectual maturity.
You will make fewer decisions focused on intellectual pursuit versus recreational fun
While this is not as scientific as it is sociological, it still relates to the reason your intellectual development will be stagnated if you decide to drink more than you should on a regular basis.
The reality is drinking is fun.
That’s why most of us do it initially.
It has the ability to turn a regular boring time into something fun because of how it lowers inhibitions and excites us to enjoy the moment.
The problem with this feeling is that it becomes way too easy to want to always turn to it instead of doing the hard work that it takes to study and grasp something that could provide more value for your long-term future.
Therefore, when you are put in a situation to choose to either study Friday night to make sure you are prepared to take an exam on Monday or to go out with your buddies to blow off some steam, the chances are relatively good that you will choose the latter.
The scary thing about drinking is that for many people, the more you do it, the more you want to do it. It is a self-fulfilling drug, meaning that it creates a need for itself by the way it chemically reacts to your body.
This is how addiction works.
And as with anything, you are what you repeatedly do.
Therefore, if you are constantly making the decision to go out and drink with your friends instead of staying in and studying or reading, your brain will be affected in the way mentioned above, which in turn will make it even more difficult for you to be successful when you actually do make the decision to study versus party.
This increased difficulty will then reinforce the concept that studying is not for you and will discourage you from pursuing intellectual pursuits that you feel are beyond your capacity, not realizing that you’re creating this intellectual ceiling.
Therefore, you decide to give up studying and go out with your friends instead, and it becomes a debilitating cycle that keeps you in a place of intellectual stagnation.
Alcohol and hard thinking don’t mix.
It is one of the reasons that some of our greatest minds of all times either didn’t drink or drank sparingly.
Therefore, the decision is yours to decide if you want to be like most people and drown their intellectual ability in alcohol and partying bliss or give yourself the chance to create the life of your dreams by letting your brain breathe and prove to yourself, and the world, what you can do.