Drinking alcohol has become so normalized in our society that not drinking alcohol results in almost more strange faces than ‘drinking’. Only, how normal is drinking alcohol, if you look at the impact of alcohol on our brain? To find out, we dive into the books.
How bad is that one glass of rosé on the terrace really? The American neurophysiologist Louisa Nicola explains the effect of alcohol on your brain. Not only with excessive drinking, but also with moderate drinking.
The effect of alcohol
An innocent glass of wine with a drink or meal, a hard-earned beer at the end of a busy day or a nice bottle of rosé on the terrace when the sun shows itself again: alcohol, we enjoy that and it doesn’t get weird looked up.
Yet you can question how ‘normal’ drinking alcohol actually is, after all, study after study shows that alcohol is associated with many negative effects. Sometimes even a lot more (!) than certain types of drugs.
To measure the effect of the impact of alcohol, we can look at different factors: the impact on your body or the impact on society. Today we look at the impact of alcohol on the brain.
The impact of alcohol on the brain
There is an endless list of scientifically proven studies that underline that drinking excessive alcohol can have a significant negative impact on your health, but what about moderate drinking? That one glass (or two) a day, or once a week, how bad is that really?
To get straight to the point: alcohol is in no way good for the brain, says neurophysiologist Louisa Nicola. There may be some studies that indicate that a glass of red wine now and then would have certain advantages, but these never outweigh the disadvantages, believes Nicola.
Alcohol to relax, right?
Still, some swear by a nightcap (an alcoholic drink before going to sleep) to improve the night’s sleep or by a soothing drink after a hard day’s work. Can’t hurt right, you would think?
For many people, drinking alcohol is a way to relax, but a glass still works not promoting before you sleep. Here’s the thing: the ingredient in alcohol that calms you down after a few drinks is hot ethanol. The side effect of this is called sedation, which is very different from sleeping.
By drinking alcohol you ensure that you can sleep less deeply and less easily in the REM sleep ends up. In other words: you may feel sleepy after a few drinks, but in reality the quality of your sleep is drastically reduced. A typical case of a short-term solution, then.
The effects of moderate drinking on the brain
When we talk about “moderate” drinking, we are talking about according to the official standards seven drinks a week for women and fourteen drinks for men. With this drinking behavior, the brain is already slightly damaged, says the neurophysiologist in the MBG podcast. Yepso also with ‘only’ a few drinks a week.
A recent study from 2022 shows that moderate drinking has a negative impact on:
- motor tasks
- emotional regulation (al hangxiety heard?)
This list goes on and on. Especially the brain regions of the frontal cortex, amygdala and brain stem are negatively affected by alcohol. That is exactly what drives the list above…
This way you can reduce brain damage
The negative impact of drinking alcohol is therefore (unfortunately) not only present if you drink a lot and often and clearly abuse alcohol. Even with a few glasses of wine or beer a week, you can already cause a less creative brain or a disturbed heartbeat. That’s not bad, if you ask us.
Does that mean you should never drink alcohol again? That is ultimately up to you, of course, but as with many things in life, enjoy, but in moderation. In any case, it is not necessary to never drink again, says Nicola. “A glass here and there won’t hurt.” So drink regularly.
Practical tips for drinking less alcohol
Check for yourself what the moments that you like to reach for the bottle. Is that when you want to unwind from a busy day, during a dinner with friends or in the pub? You may want to start cutting back on drinks when you choose to drink. Then instead of always ordering a glass of wine, order a water or another non-alcoholic drink in between. This way you end up getting half the alcohol in your body than normal.
Are you sitting on the terrace with friends and would you like to enjoy a drink? There is probably also a delicious, non-alcoholic beer on the menu that tastes at least as good as the alcoholic variant!
It can also be helpful to find out Why you drink. Is it out of habit or to discharge? When you find out, it will become easier to find a more conscious and healthy alternative.
Nowadays, drinking no or less alcohol does not have to be boring anymore: there are endless alcohol-free gins, beers and delicious other alternatives, such as these delicious, summery alcohol-free cocktails.