And it could only get worse as you get older.
“Just one bout of heavy drinking… can cause permanent alterations in your nerve cells and reduce the size of your individual brain cells.” ― Annie Grace, This Naked Mind
Last week, I wrote about the age in which individuals should begin monitoring their drinking.
You can read more about it here in this article, but the gist is that the age range of 35–45 is the typical time that individuals should be careful how much alcohol they drink since this is the prime time for alcohol dependency to begin.
The reality though is that many issues associated with excessive alcohol consumption can begin much sooner than that.
Many of us are very familiar with the expected 2–3 day effect alcohol has on our thinking, which makes it much more difficult to process and think through various complex ideas.
However, what most people don’t recognize is that alcohol’s effect on our ability to think clearly and process information effectively lasts much longer than just those 2 or 3 days and can get much worse and scarier with time.
What is alcohol brain fog?
Alcohol brain fog is that muddled cloud that one experiences while under the influence of alcohol.
From a pleasurable point of view, it’s that euphoric feeling of not really caring about things as much and just enjoying the present moment.
From a negative point of view, however, it’s that feeling of the world spinning and it being difficult to put various thoughts together easily without significant difficulty.
This difficulty is caused by the numerous negative ways in which the toxic substance of alcohol (hence the term intoxication) affects our bodies.
From a chemical standpoint, alcohol blocks the signal between the brain cells (neurons) which is why we experience many of these symptoms associated with drinking, e.g., slurred speech, poor memory, and delayed reflexes.
The neural effects of alcohol can continue to linger for a day or two as our body still tries to get all of the alcohol out of our body.
This causes our brain to continue to have issues processing our neurotransmitters at their usual speed, and we continue to have slow thinking (brain fog) as a result of this.
How does it affect our long term thinking?
When it comes to our thinking and alcohol brain fog, we all recognize those next day occurrences of things taking a little longer for us to comprehend and process.
And while this seems like enough of an annoyance in and of itself, the true danger of drinking is that is can actually have a much greater effect on our long term thinking than in those immediate days following our night on the town.
What has widely been recognized for some time is that the long-term consumption of alcohol, particularly in large volumes, will, over time, shrink one’s brain and make any of the short term “brain fog” results of the next day hangover become permanent fixtures in one’s life.
One major way this happens is due to our neurotransmitters having to work so hard to try to overcome the blocking effects of alcohol to get us back to baseline that they eventually will burn out all together due to overwork.
This results in fewer pathways for us to process our thinking, and thus slower reactionary time and thinking overall.
The second way is the natural shrinkage of both the grey and white matter of the brain related to drinking. The shrinking of one’s brain is a natural part of aging, and results in a natural loss of our ability to remember and learn at the same clip that we did when we were young.
However, with the artificial loss of brain mass due to alcohol, these effects are sped up much quicker and, in the worst case scenarios, could turn into early full on dementia or the Korsakoff syndrome.
While for years the medical industry has touted that moderate drinking (1 or 2 glasses per day) was safe in regards to not causing any negative health effects, that belief is being challenged due to recent studies that even moderate drinking can be associated to premature cognitive decline and abilities.
In a British study conducted by the UK Biobank, 20,965 participants were asked about their drinking habits and then scanned by an MRI to see how their brains had been affected.
For those individuals who considered themselves as “non-drinkers” because they were right on the cusp of moderate drinking at only seven drinks per week, they still saw a material increased in the amount of iron build-up in their gasal banglia.
This artificial build-up, over time, would result in lower cognitive function and memory at a pace much quicker than what would occur without it.
In another British study, researchers discovered that even moderate to low drinking below the seven glass threshold could result in more shrinkage of the brain and lower cognitive function than those who did not drink at all.
What this means is that the hangover brain fog that occurs one or two days after we drink, slowly and subtly becomes our everyday brain fog that we don’t even recognize because it happens over such a long period of time.
What can you do to get rid of it?
While much of this information can be scary, the good news is that you can stop and somewhat reverse the negative effects of alcohol if you take the right steps early enough.
The first obvious step would be to cut back on your drinking immediately if you are consuming more than the recommended 1 or 2 glass maximum per day.
The science behind the negative effects of one’s long term cognitive function are clear and decisive. To continue to drink alcohol in excess of this amount is clearly exposing yourself to the danger of losing your mental abilities way earlier than you should.
However, for many this could be an extreme challenge due to the social and physiological dependence that many of us have developed to alcohol.
This was my situation, in which I had been drinking for close to 19 years and had developed a lifestyle dependence on alcohol that made it challenging for me to attempt to moderate it.
If you fall into this category, known as the functional subtype, my best advice is to give up alcohol completely.
The science is clear as it relates to the number of negative ways it affects not only our mental capabilities but our physical capabilities as well.
And while I can’t promise that you’ll go back to your quick-witted sharpness of your college years, at least you’ll know that you’re pushing yourself in the right direction to stay as sharp and witty now for as long as possible.
Thanks so much for reading.
If interested in learning about how alcohol affects your life and ways to quit/moderate, please feel free to follow my Medium publication, AINYF, and/or join its newsletter group below for information and updates.
Also, if you’re looking for a social group that can help with your journey for alcohol-consciousness, please check out my mate, Janet Gourand, at Triber Sober or my other homie, Victoria English Martin at After The Crisis.
Both have great content and tips/strategies to help, so pick the one that is right for you.
Lastly, if you are new to sobriety and could use some help in planning out a vacation that doesn’t involving drinking, please check out Patty McMahon, M.Ed magazine, How to Plan Your Sober Vacation, for tips and strategies on how to do so.
Thanks for reading again, and remember…
You never lose the battle until you stop fighting…