This is Your Brain on Alcohol and It’s Not Pretty

This is your brain on drugs.

If you’re old enough, you may remember a drug prevention public service announcement from the 1980s, This is Your Brain on Drugs. In that short PSA, someone drops an egg in a hot pan. As the egg sizzles violently, the announcer says, “This is your brain on drugs.” The message was clear. If you want a healthy brain, avoid drug use. It’s too bad they didn’t include alcohol in that message. Getting the idea across to drinkers and non-drinkers alike that excessive alcohol use causes brain damage has been a slow process.

A new study from France adds to the pool of evidence revealing how alcohol damages the delicate tissues of the brain. The study, published in The Lancet Public Health journal, reported on the result of a review of one million cases of dementia among the French population. Specifically, the study sought to determine the relationship of alcohol use disorder to mental disorders or chronic diseases.

Here’s some of the key findings of this study:

  • Fifty-seven thousand of these people suffered from early-onset dementia. The majority (57%) of these people were chronic heavy drinkers.
  • One of the authors of this study noted that an alcohol use disorder shortens a person’s life by an average of twenty years.
  • There are other risk factors for dementia, such as lower educational level, tobacco use, high blood pressure and diabetes. Alcohol use disorders are intertwined with all these factors, indicating that heavy alcohol use may contribute to ill health in indirect ways as well as direct ones.
A man struggles with dementia.
  • While the majority of dementia patients were women, a disproportionately large number (64.9%) of early-onset dementia cases patients were men. Among the general population, about twice as many men as women suffer from alcohol use disorder.

Unfortunately, when dementia is diagnosed, it is usually too late to reverse the condition. When alcohol is the cause, the best and safest solution is, of course, eliminating the alcohol. But not everyone can put down the bottle. This study points out the necessity of intervening when someone you care about can’t control their own drinking. The risks of continuing to drink excessively are simply way too high.


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.