Alcohol and Brain Health

by Monica Tarr

During these trying times, alcohol may seem like a balm to calm our nerves and relieve the stress and isolation we are feeling. However, consuming alcoholic beverages may not be the best choice for our brains. Besides disrupting much-needed sleep, alcohol impacts the brain’s physiology and its functioning. Here is some information that will help you consider your own alcohol consumption.

Humans have been drinking alcoholic beverages for over 9,000 years, from the earliest known origins of rice wine in China to the myriad libations we enjoy today. But how much is too much when it comes to our brains?

When we drink, the brain releases endorphins that bind to opiate receptors, making us more sociable and less inhibited. However, shrinking of the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for short term memory), is also noticeable with any alcohol consumption when compared to teetotalers.1

The advice we often hear from physicians is to consume no more than one serving of alcoholic beverages per day for women and two servings per day for men. (One serving is considered to be 12 oz of beer, 5 oz of wine or 1.5 oz of spirits). On the flip side, a British study found 100 grams (equivalent to 3.5 oz) of spirits per week to be the lowest risk of all-cause mortality, even when compared to those who abstain.2 As we age however, our ability to metabolize alcohol diminishes.3 These findings all align with Dr. Dale Bredesen’s recommendation for weekly alcohol consumption in his book, The End of Alzheimer’s.

Given what can sometimes appear to be contradictory information, what’s a person to do . . . especially someone who is an APOE4 carrier (the genetic risk factor implicated in Alzheimer’s disease) and/or someone with a family history of Alzheimer’s?

Awareness, Decisions, Actions

If you are concerned about your memory, it’s important to first become aware of your behaviors with regard to alcohol consumption. Greater clarity about your habits can enable you to decide what actions you might take to ensure good cognitive health.

  • Keep a journal. What do you drink, with whom, when, and how much? How do you feel at the time? The next day?
  • Reflect on what unconscious habits you have around drinking. Think about places, people, occasions, frequency, days of the week. Under what conditions do you get true enjoyment from drinking?
  • Do your research so you are informed about the effects of alcohol. Only by educating yourself can you weigh the outcomes and decide what course of action is right for you.
Make a Plan and Enlist Support

Once you have determined if alcohol will be a part of your life, make conscious decisions about how, when, with whom and how much you’ll drink.

  • Build structure into your weekly alcohol consumption (Example: start a diary or make notes on your phone’s calendar) so you are actively monitoring intake to ensure it meets your goals.
  • What will you say to friends, family, bartenders?
  • Is there someone who can support you in social situations to help you stick to your goal?
  • Note the impact of your decisions daily, weekly, and monthly. What changes are you noticing? How are you feeling mentally, emotionally, and physically? How have your decisions affected your lifestyle choices?

There are definite cognitive benefits to limiting the amount of alcohol you consume. While it can be challenging to maintain a new habit and not beat yourself up when you don’t meet your goals, it’s important to remember this: every time you make the conscious choice to stick to a new habit, it gets easier to do it the next time.

Monica Tarr is a Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach helping people optimize brain health and prevent Alzheimer’s disease through diet, exercise, sleep and stress reduction. Learn more at





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