Alcoholic vs. normal brain

Alcohol is a depressant that alters the chemical balance in the brain. Alcoholics suffer from several cognitive impairments, such as memory problems and impaired judgment. They also have an increased risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease later in life due to the damage done to their brain cells by alcohol consumption. This blog looks at how an alcoholic’s brain differs from a normal brain.

Reduced grey and white matter

The brains of alcoholics differ from the brains of normal people in several ways. First, alcoholics have reduced grey matter volume in their brains. Grey matter is responsible for processing information, so this reduction results in impaired cognitive function. Alcoholics also have less white matter, which is responsible for connecting different parts of the brain together. This means that alcoholics have slower reaction times and are less likely to be able to multi-task or switch between tasks quickly. Studies show that people with a family history of alcoholism also tend to have reduced grey matter volume, indicating there may be a genetic component as well.

Loss of coordination

Alcoholics also have problems with coordination. This is due to the damage done to their cerebellum, a part of the brain that controls movement. The cerebellum is particularly vulnerable to alcohol-induced damage, and as a result, alcoholics often have difficulty walking and speaking correctly. They may also suffer from tremors and muscle weakness.

Shortened attention span 

Alcohol also affects the attention span of alcoholics. This is because it reduces the amount of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is responsible for motivation and pleasure, so when there is less of it, people find it harder to focus on tasks and stay interested in them. This is why alcoholics often find it difficult to follow a conversation or complete tasks.

Emotional instability

Alcohol can also cause emotional instability in alcoholics. This is because it reduces the amount of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is responsible for mood, and when there is less of it, alcoholics can become irritable and angry easily. They may also experience depression and anxiety symptoms.

Memory loss

Alcoholics also have issues with memory. This is because alcohol can damage the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is responsible for processing information into memories and retrieving those memories later on. Damage to this area causes blackouts during which an alcoholic will not remember what they did while intoxicated. It also leads to long-term memory problems.

Decreased IQ 

Studies have shown that alcoholics also tend to have lower IQs than people who don’t drink alcohol. This is because alcohol consumption can damage the brain cells and disrupt the development of the brain. It also is a root cause of cognitive decline, which can lead to a decrease in IQ over time.

Poor impulse control 

Alcoholics also have problems with impulse control. This is because alcohol reduces the function of the frontal lobe, which is responsible for decision-making and impulse control. As a result, alcoholics are more likely to act on their impulses without thinking about the consequences first. They may also be more aggressive and argumentative than non-alcoholics.

Increased risk for depression and anxiety disorders

Alcoholics are also at an increased risk for developing depression and anxiety disorders. This is because alcohol can disrupt the balance of chemicals in the brain, leading to mood swings and problems with emotional regulation. Alcoholics may also find it difficult to cope with stressors without using alcohol as a coping mechanism, which can lead to addiction.

Related: Is alcohol affecting your mental health? The truth about Hangxiety.

Impaired judgment and reasoning skills 

Finally, alcoholics also have impaired judgment and reasoning skills. This is because alcohol reduces the amount of glucose in their brains. Glucose is responsible for making decisions and using logic to solve problems, so when there isn’t enough of it, people cannot make good choices or think clearly about what they should do next. Alcoholics may not be able to tell when they are drunk, which can lead to them making bad decisions that can seriously harm themselves or others.


How do I know if I’m drinking too much?

Being aware of how much you are drinking and how often is important in managing your alcohol intake. The NHS advises the following guidelines:

  • men and women are advised not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis
  • spread your drinking over 3 or more days if you regularly drink as much as 14 units a week
  • if you want to cut down, try to have several drink-free days each week

For reference, 14 units is equivalent to 6 pints of average-strength beer or 10 small glasses of lower-strength wine.

Alcoholism is a serious disease that affects not only the person who drinks but also their loved ones. It’s important to understand the effects of alcohol on the brain so that you can get help for yourself or someone you know who is struggling with alcoholism. You can refer the NHS’s alcohol support page for more information on getting help.