Heavy Alcohol Consumption Now Linked to Brain Inflammation
People should go to great lengths to protect their health, and most do. However, people can only protect their health to the extent that they’re informed on what causes risk and long-term harm to their health. That’s why recent findings connecting alcohol consumption to brain inflammation must be made known to the broader public, especially to those who drink.
Research Shows Heavy Alcohol Consumption Increases Brain Inflammation
New research presented by the Scripps Research Institute and published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity on February 28, 2023, provides several insights into the effects of alcohol on the brain. The two primary takeaways are:
- Alcohol hampers the body’s immune system by suppressing areas of the brain that direct immune function.
- Alcohol causes inflammation in the critical areas of the brain that regulate and coordinate decision-making.
The findings may be the first of their kind that are able to provide a biological explanation for why alcohol affects decision-making and impulsivity. The study’s senior author Marisa Roberto, Ph.D., the Schimmel Family Chair of Molecular Medicine and a professor of neuroscience at Scripps Research, spoke to this point: “These inflammatory changes to the brain could explain some of the risky decision-making and impulsivity we see in people with alcohol use disorder,” she said. Roberto’s research acts as the critical connection between the observations the scientific community has always made about alcohol consumption and decision-making (that people under the influence of alcohol make rash decisions) and the internal biology that may be occurring that’s causing such impulsivity.
The findings connected the impulsive behavior of alcohol users to brain inflammation, suppressing areas of the brain that monitor impulse control. Further, the researchers were able to highlight the now-scientific fact that alcohol consumption hampers one’s ability to control their impulses as pertains to alcohol consumption itself. Simply, the critical fact that engaging in frequent, excessive, and uncontrolled drinking then leads to more frequent, excessive, and uncontrolled drinking can now be linked back to alcohol’s physiological effect of causing inflammation in the brain.
In conclusion? The vicious cycle of gradually worsening behavior in alcohol addicts and a gradual increase in the volume of alcohol consumed and the regularity with which it is consumed can now be identified as a biological result of the deleterious effect alcohol has on the brain. Such findings highlight the stark need for alcohol addicts to seek treatment as soon as possible.
The researchers arrived at these findings by testing mice and animals, some of which were dependent on alcohol, others of which were not. The group of animals dependent on alcohol was found to have twice the amount of a chemical that causes brain inflammation than the non-alcohol-dependent animal group. Notably, markers for inflammation persisted even as the alcohol-dependent animal group went through withdrawals and came down off alcohol, suggesting that heavy alcohol use over time may permanently alter the composition of the brain and produce risk factors even after someone stops drinking.
Alcohol and Brain Health
While the findings cited above are the first of their kind that connect alcohol consumption to brain inflammation in areas of the brain that regulate impulsivity and decision-making, the findings are not the first to identify alcohol as having a detrimental effect on the brain. Critically, alcohol consumption affects multiple areas of neurologic function and well-being. For example, alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways to other areas of the brain, which can affect how the brain looks and works.
Alcohol consumption over time can permanently change brain function and structure, too. For example, research has shown that people who drink alcohol excessively over time can develop permanent changes in their gait and balance and long-lasting impairments in their ability to coordinate ambulatory movement. Even after such individuals get clean, they may continue to struggle with coordination and muscle control, as though alcohol’s influence upon them remains in effect months and even years into their sobriety.
Further Evidence of the Need to Seek Treatment
Though the Scripps Research Institute findings are the first of their kind, it is almost certain that more studies will provide similar results, as the researchers were able to isolate and identify the molecular areas of the brain that experience inflammation during alcohol intoxication (paving the way for other researchers to pick up where Scripps scientists left off).
While the Scripps researchers intend to follow up their findings by testing ways in which brain inflammation could be reduced and even prevented in recovering alcoholics, the key takeaway for the layperson is that people who struggle with an alcohol addiction must get help as soon as possible, ideally before alcohol consumption causes permanent changes in their brain structure.
If you know someone who is struggling with an addiction to alcohol or drugs, please help them find and enter treatment at a qualified alcohol addiction treatment center as soon as possible. Please don’t wait until it is too late and their addiction to alcohol causes them permanent harm.
- ScienceDirect. “Chronic ethanol induces a pro-inflammatory switch in interleukin-1β regulation of GABAergic signaling in the medial prefrontal cortex of male mice.” Science Direct, 2023. sciencedirect.com
- ScienceDaily. “How heavy alcohol consumption increases brain inflammation.” Science Daily, 2023. sciencedaily.com
- NIAAA. “Alcohol’s Effects on Health.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2023. niaaa.nih.gov
- NIH. “Gait and Balance Deficits in Chronic Alcoholics: No Improvement from 10 Weeks Through One Year Abstinence.” National Institutes of Health, 2012. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov