Remember: “Moderation is the key”
Heavy or ‘High Risk’: More than 3 drinks a day and 7 a week for women; 4 a day and 14 a week for men. Exceeding these levels regularly runs the risk of long-term cognitive damage, memory loss, depression, cirrhosis of the liver, high blood pressure, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, cancer of the throat, esophagus, breast and colon, as well as drowning, falling and being hurt in motor vehicle accidents.
From the WSJ:
Chronic heavy drinking can cause insidious damage to the brain, even in people who never seem intoxicated or obviously addicted.
Experts say alcohol-related brain damage is underdiagnosed and often confused with Alzheimer’s disease, other forms of dementia or just getting older.
Now, brain imaging is revealing how long-term alcohol abuse can change the structure of the brain, shrinking gray-matter cells in areas that govern learning, memory, decision-making and social behavior, as well as damaging white-matter fibers that connect one part of the brain with others.
“As we get older, we all lose a little gray-matter volume and white-matter integrity, but in alcoholics, those areas break down more quickly. It looks like accelerated aging,” says Edith Sullivan, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Stanford University, who has studied alcohol’s effects for years.
Long-term alcohol abuse also changes how the brain regulates emotion and anxiety and disrupts sleep systems, creating wide-ranging effects on the body. Increasingly, clinicians are diagnosing “alcohol-induced neurocognitive disorder” and “alcohol-related dementia.”
How much is too much? The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says the probability of serious health issues is low for men who have no more than 14 drinks a week, or 4 on a single day, and women who have no more than 7 drinks a week, or 3 on a single day.
How much is too much and over what period of time? Researchers are reluctant to say, because alcohol’s effects are highly individual and based on genetics, age, sex, patterns of consumption and general health. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) says the probability of serious health issues is low for men who have no more than 14 drinks a week, or 4 on a single day, and women who have no more than 7 drinks a week or 3 on a single day. Some people, though, experience severe effects at much lower levels.
Meanwhile, some studies show that people who drink moderately (generally defined as 1 drink a day for women, 2 for men) have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, depression and some cognitive issues than those who don’t drink at all. But the risks of harm rise sharply the more alcohol people consume. “Low levels of alcohol may improve blood flow to the brain—but there’s a tension between that and reduced white matter,” says Ian Lang, a dementia expert and senior lecturer in public health at the University of Exeter Medical School in England. “At some levels, there may be a tipping point where the harmful effects outweigh the benefits.”
Also unclear is whether heavy drinking during a person’s teens and 20s, when important brain connections are still forming, has a lasting effect on brain function in later life.
Some researchers are bracing for a wave of cognitive problems as baby boomers age. “Sad to say, we think their increased exposure in the 1960s has put them at substantially higher risk for alcohol-related mortality and morbidity than the generation before them,” says Gary Kennedy, chief of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y.
Imaging studies show that while long-term heavy drinking impacts the entire brain, the greatest damage occurs in the frontal lobe that controls executive function, which includes planning, controlling impulses and modifying behavior…
Intelligent Conservatives, Read On: The Effects of Chronic Heavy Drinking on Brain Function Are Underdiagnosed – WSJ