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How Alcohol Changes Your Brain. Leeds Drinkers: Latest Neuro Information.

Updated: Sep 30


• In and around Leeds (Yorkshire and the Humber), research shows that 75% of men and 66% of women drank alcohol within the last week (of research taken).

• The Leeds based study showed that ......Almost 40% of people living in Yorkshire and Humberside drank over the recommended daily recommended units of alcohol (2-3 units for women and 3-4 for men) on at least one day a week.

• Over 35,000 adults in Leeds can be described as "high-risk drinkers", (males drinking more than 50 units a week and females drinking more than 35 units a week.

• The estimated weekly spending on alcohol in households in Leeds is around £4.5 million, signifying total spending of £232 million each year on alcoholic beverages. (Centre for Public Health)


Below is some information to help Leeds drinkers with some up to date scientific information on alcohol and the brain.



Drinking alcohol causes cognitive changes with which we're all familiar. While partaking, alcohol can warp your visuospatial perception and impair your motor skills. It can wipe out your memory, both short and long-term, and reduce your decision-making abilities. People generally seem to recover from the effects of alcohol in about the amount of time it takes their liver to process it. The person may be left with a killer headache, but they seem to sober up with no lasting effects.


That is not entirely accurate.


The latest research shows that brain impairment continues hours to a day after heavy drinking. With few exceptions, studies indicate that cognitive abilities, like attention and memory, are debilitated even when alcohol is no longer measurable in the blood. With continued alcohol use, some effects on the brain are seen for longer.

Whether you're an alcoholic, a social drinker who overindulges on weekends, or a light drinker who gets innocently buzzed throughout the week, drinking alcohol is changing your brain.


Alcohol Actually Shrinks Your Brain


Multiple studies have shown that the brains of people with severe alcohol abuse disorders are smaller and lighter than those of people who aren't alcoholics. Basically, the research says that the more alcohol people drink on a regular basis, the lower their brain volume.

While science has confirmed that adults who drink low to moderate amounts of alcohol have lower rates of cardiovascular disease, one study found that even moderate alcohol consumption was not protective against normal age-related differences in total brain volume. Rather, the more alcohol consumed — even moderate amounts — the smaller the total brain volume.

The Harvard article, This Is Your Brain on Alcohol, puts it this way:

“Although excessive drinking is linked to an increased risk of dementia, decades of observational studies have indicated that moderate drinking — defined as no more than one drink a day for women and two for men — has few ill effects. (A drink equals 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits, 5 ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer.) However, a recent British study seems to have bad news for moderate drinkers, indicating that even moderate drinking is associated with shrinkage in areas of the brain involved in cognition and learning."

These findings support the recent reduction in alcohol guidance in the UK and question the current limits recommended in the US.


How Alcohol Impacts the Brain's Reward System


Like most drugs, alcohol acts on the brain's reward system, specifically the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine plays a crucial role in regulating mood and reward-seeking behaviour and is responsible for all addictions. Physically, dopamine affects the brain processes that control movement.

Drinking initially boosts a person’s dopamine levels, but their brain adapts to the surplus with continued alcohol use. Over time, their brain starts to produce less of the neurochemical, reduces the number of dopamine receptors, and increases dopamine transporters. Dopamine transporters carry away excess dopamine. As dopamine levels decline, so does the person's "feel-good" reaction to drinking.  As a result, they may consume increasing amounts of alcohol to try to achieve the same feeling as before.

A small study by researchers at Columbia University found that men had a greater release of dopamine when they drank than women. This may explain why men are more than twice as likely as women to develop an alcohol use disorder. Other research indicates that some people tend to have a higher release of and response to dopamine. These individuals may be biologically predisposed to drink more heavily and develop an alcohol addiction easier.


What Happens to the Brain after Detox


To some degree, the brain is impaired by regular alcohol consumption no matter what the amount or frequency. However, the good news is that, with sobriety, the brain can repair itself somewhat. Of course, to what extent exactly will vary with each individual. Also, recovery may vary among different parts of the brain.

According to the article, Brains of Recovering Alcoholics Regenerate Surprisingly Fast:

“A new study shows that the brains of alcoholics who give up alcohol start to show signs of tissue regrowth and recovery within the first two months of abstinence.

The study is published in the online neurology journal Brain.

Scientists already know that chronic abuse of alcohol leads to brain damage which in the most part is irreversible. Long term alcohol abuse impairs brain function and metabolism, changes its structure, and reduces its size."


Alcohol and Cognitive Changes in Behavior


Alcohol can also worsen underlying mental health conditions whether they have been diagnosed or not. A dual diagnosis, where an individual is diagnosed with both a substance abuse disorder and a mental illness, is common. Many people diagnosed with a mental illness choose to self-medicate with alcohol or other similar substances

At Start Recovery, we understand how alcoholism and addiction change and take over your brain. We also understand the process of changing your brain, behaviour, and thinking to help you recover and heal. Start Recovery will work with you as an individual, putting together a personalised care plan to ensure that you have the best possible information, help, and guidance in your recovery journey from substance abuse, alcoholism or addiction.



Thanks to Debbie Hampton from The Best Brain Possible for this guest blog article written specifically for Start Recovery. (Local Leeds statistics gathered by Start Recovery).


About The Author

Debbie Hampton recovered from depression, a suicide attempt, and resulting brain injury to become an inspirational and educational writer for Huffington Post, MindBodyGreen, and more. On her website, The Best Brain Possible, Debbie shares how she rebuilt her brain and life. You can learn the steps to a better you in her book, Beat Depression And Anxiety By Changing Your Brain or get inspiration from her memoir, Sex, Suicide and Serotonin: How These Thing Almost Killed And Healed Me.

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