Alcohol Awareness Week – Alcohol & The Brain

Alcohol, do we know the facts?

Every day we see the impact of hazardous, dangerous and dependent alcohol consumption – we see lives severely affected by addiction, its health and social impacts and the devastating harm it causes to families and relationships.  However, our services work to change this.

Educating people on the dangers of hazardous alcohol consumption can make a big difference and help stop lives being blighted by addiction.  This week is Alcohol Awareness Week, with the particular theme of alcohol and its relation to health.  Each day we will be sharing facts and information about alcohol and its influencing role in many health issues – read on and share and promote these messages.

Alcohol and Brain Damage

‘Alcohol-related brain damage’ (ARBD) is an umbrella term for the damage to all areas of the brain due to heavy drinking. Drinking too much alcohol alters the brain, its chemistry and its physical size, shape and structure. Alcohol is a neurotoxin and damages the neurons and blood vessels in the brain, causing them to shrink. This prevents enough oxygen reaching the brain and parts of the brain dies. Alcohol also damages the lining of the stomach and intestines, disrupting a healthy diet and the absorption of nutrients. Thiamine (vitamin B1) is vital for brain function. Heavy drinking can result in severe thiamine deficiency. The deficits can have serious consequences, including changes in personality, as well as problems with thinking, mood, memory and learning.

There are four main forms of ARBD: Alcohol-related Dementia, Alcohol Amnesic Syndrome, Wernicke-Korsakoff’s Syndrome and damage to the frontal lobe, each with their own distinguishing cognitive deficits. The most common symptoms of the former 3 are short-term memory loss, personality changes, difficulty concentrating, confusion and even psychosis. Damage to the frontal lobe more commonly presents personality changes, difficulties in decision-making, goal-setting, assessing risks, controlling impulses, prioritising and issues surrounding moral conscience.

Stats

  • Around 0.5% of people in the UK have some changes to their brain resulting from alcohol.
  • 35% of heavy drinkers have some form of alcohol-related brain damage.
  • Alcohol-related brain damage accounts for 10% – 24% of all cases of dementia.
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff’s syndrome is found in 12% of dependent drinkers.
  • Men who regularly drink more than 35 units and women who regularly drink more than 28 units of alcohol a week, over a period of 5 or more years, are more likely to have resulting brain damage. Women are more susceptible to alcohol-related brain damage and develop it earlier, typically in their 30s – 60s.

Raising Awareness

It is clear that alcohol consumption contributes to the development of alcohol-related brain damage. One of the best ways to reduce the risk of people suffering from alcohol-related brain damage is to limit alcohol consumption and raise awareness of the link amongst the wider public.

As a charity dealing with these issues every day, we are the experts by experience – we see the results of alcohol dependence, but importantly, work to rectify them.  We are committed to raising awareness of the dangers of hazardous alcohol consumption, preventing addiction and ensuring people are aware of the risks.

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