Does Drinking Alcohol Really Kill Brain Cells?

By Brian Lemay 73 comments


Now, to qualify that title, pure alcohol will
absolutely kill brain cells and many other types of cells, which is why it is used as
a disinfectant. However, recent research has shown that the quantity of alcohol you could
possibly take in, without killing yourself, does not introduce enough alcohol into your
bloodstream to kill brain cells. This was proven by a study by Grethe Jensen and co.
(1993), who meticulously counted neurons in matched samples of non-alcoholics and alcoholics.
What they found was that there was no real difference in the density or overall number
of neurons between the two groups. Various other research since has backed up Jensen’s
findings. Thus, even alcoholics who are continually taking in unhealthy amounts of alcohol aren’t
going to see brain cells die because of their drinking problem. However, alcohol does have
other effects on the brain, both positive and negative, that have nothing to do with
brain cells dying. First, the positive: drinking moderate amounts
of alcohol on a regular basis has been shown to have various positive effects on your body.
The one that pertains to this article’s topic is that it has been shown to help protect
people from cognitive impairment as they age. According to a study done at the Catholic
University of the Sacred Heart, in Italy, 29% of people 65 years or older who almost
never drank alcohol throughout their life had mental impairment issues. On the flip-side
of that, only about 19% of people 65 years or older who drank moderate amounts of alcohol
regularly had any mental impairment. It was further discovered that, among the various
groups where other problems, such as health problems or the like, might impair them mentally,
the same trend appeared. In every group, those who drank moderately on a regular basis throughout
their lives always had a diminished chance of becoming mentally impaired in their old
age compared to those who didn’t drink at all or almost never drank. Now for the negative (there’s a lot when
it comes to intemperate alcohol consumption, so I’ll only cover a few): while brain cells
aren’t being killed as the result of drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, the ability
for your brain cells to communicate with one another is being inhibited. What’s going
on here is that the alcohol ends up damaging dendrites, which are the things at the ends
of neurons that conduct electrochemical stimulation from another cell to the cell body in question.
Basically, with some of these dendrites damaged, it inhibits the ability of your brain cells
to talk to one another. Luckily, you have an amazing number of connections
and neurons in your brain (about 100 billion neurons, along with 10’s of billions of
glial cells, which support the neurons). So this helps mask the problem. Also, even among
long time alcoholics, it has been shown that simply quitting drinking copious amounts of
alcohol is all that is required for your body to be able to reverse most of the damage to
the dendrites and restore the ability for your brain cells to communicate. So you can
afford to damage some of the neurons temporarily without any real lasting effect. Unfortunately, for the people who have an
extreme habit of excessively drinking, there are other side effects on your brain that
aren’t so easily completely fixed, such as developing Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome,
which is characterized by: confusion, coordination problems, hallucinations, memory problems,
eye problems, and even inducing a coma or death, if it’s left untreated. What’s
going on here is that excessive alcohol consumption over a long period of time causes a vitamin
B1 deficiency (8 out of 10 alcoholics are vitamin B1 deficient), due to the alcohol
inhibiting the body’s ability to absorb thiamine (also many alcoholics are often malnourished
because of their own bad eating habits). This, in turn, causes neuron death, among other
things. This is treatable, in most cases, but certain effects stick around forever as
your body won’t be able to repair itself completely from this particular brand of damage. Another brain-related side effect caused by
excessive drinking is that high doses of alcohol, while not killing your brain cells, inhibits
the growth of new brain cells. However, recent research has shown, at least with rats, that
once the alcohol was no longer given to the rats, new brain cell production went into
overdrive to try to compensate for the previously inhibited brain cell production. Now, if you
go for long enough without giving your brain a chance to recover, drinking excessively
on a regular basis, it is thought there may still be lasting effects due to this inhibited
new brain cell growth over extended periods, but whether this is actually the case or not,
isn’t yet known. There are also a variety of other known neurological
problems that are associated with intemperate alcohol consumptions over long periods of
time and some that even show up in a short amount of time in children and teens who abuse
alcohol, but this article is already too long. 🙂 Then of course, there are the myriad of
other problems, non-brain related that come with alcoholism, such as liver problems, other
nervous system problems outside of how it affects your brain, and others. Bottom line, alcohol consumed in moderation,
such as a small glass of wine a day, can be very good for you. On the other hand, drinking
excessively won’t kill you brain cells directly, but is still bad for your brain. Although,
your body can compensate, to a certain extent, and repair the damage caused in most cases,
at least as far as your brain is concerned, so long as you don’t make a regular habit
of it. Bonus Facts: Another myth concerning alcohol that was once
spread about, particularly during Prohibition, but to which I don’t think anyone actually
believes anymore (at least I hope not!), is that drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
can lead to spontaneous combustion due to alcohol being flammable and it coursing through
your veins. This is ridiculous on many levels, but nevertheless, was a popular notion during
Prohibition and for a while afterwards. The myth that alcohol kills brain cells was also
widely popularized during Prohibition. There are several things that contribute to
hangovers, but principally what’s going on here is simple dehydration. Alcohol has
a dehydrating effect by inhibiting the release of vasopressin, which is an anti-diuretic
hormone. So in layman’s terms, the result of alcohol inhibiting the vasopressin is that
your body produces a lot more urine than normal with the result that you become dehydrated
easily. Scientists once believed that the number of
nerve cells you have in your brain, once you reach adulthood, was all you’d ever have.
Thus, damaging these cells could be extremely detrimental to the individual. However, this
isn’t correct. New neurons are created all the time in the adult brain, in a process
that is
called neurogenesis.

73 Comments

Tofu Sandwich

Oct 10, 2015, 1:19 am Reply

YAY TIME TO DRINK ALL THE VODKA!!!!

Val D

Oct 10, 2015, 1:20 am Reply

Jews

Brian H

Oct 10, 2015, 1:30 am Reply

I only drink Vodka, but not that often.  Maybe I should drink more. …..

Atler the Dark

Oct 10, 2015, 2:34 am Reply

If you drink too much alcohol, you will die. If you die, you will go to the Moon.
The Moon is made of dead people.

ernie pokemon

Oct 10, 2015, 3:38 am Reply

I gave you a like this time Simon do you know why? because your video was informative.

Ayden Gamer

Oct 10, 2015, 9:02 am Reply

Simon sounds a bit sad in this episode

Ayden Gamer

Oct 10, 2015, 9:03 am Reply

i still believed bonus fact #1

oneroarmouse

Oct 10, 2015, 9:59 am Reply

Jaws theme plays Absinth(e)…

Kamron Grant

Oct 10, 2015, 10:46 am Reply

I remember failing an assignment I did because I tried arguing just this; basically that alcohol doesn't actually kill brain cells but can damage them among other pros and cons. I suppose they didn't like someone telling kids that alcohol wasn't that bad for you 😛

Corky Schillinger

Oct 10, 2015, 11:21 am Reply

Nicely done! One again, fact without hyperbole. If only all videos could be this unbiased.

DomNomNom

Oct 10, 2015, 11:47 am Reply

Does it really say "twenty million percent" at 1:30 for the statistic?

Stefan Travis

Oct 10, 2015, 12:23 pm Reply

Do you realise, you spend most of your adulthood discovering everything you learned as a child was complete rubbish?

One day, we might learn there's no god.

Flaminia Schäfer

Oct 10, 2015, 12:34 pm Reply

once again a brilliantly done video! 🙂

Jeffery Green

Oct 10, 2015, 3:43 am Reply

1:30 sounds like he says 20 million percent.

ExoGhost

May 5, 2016, 2:39 pm Reply

Yes bitch.

You Me

Aug 8, 2016, 1:27 pm Reply

wait so am I affected. I drank only one shot and and a half cup of alcohol and vodka months ago. I don't drink I just did it. I didn't get drunk or anything I just felt hazy

Ben Ryder

Sep 9, 2016, 4:19 am Reply

What about "drinking as underaged stunts your brain growth"?

net28573

Nov 11, 2016, 10:23 am Reply

I'm pretty sure that neogenesis is limited to specific long-term memory regions in the brain, which, while important, don't actually cover that large of an area.

Ben Cho

Nov 11, 2016, 8:09 pm Reply

1:35 but my cognition does get impaired when I drink heavily…

creshiell

Nov 11, 2016, 3:07 am Reply

alcohol causing spontaneous combustion is beautiful

The Recluse

Dec 12, 2016, 2:03 am Reply

I got pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) after a weekend of HEAVY drinking. Worst pain of my life. If you ever have unbearable abdominal pain/vomiting go to the ER immediately. I had no prior knowledge of this condition. I feel like more people should be aware of it. I ended up staying in the hospital for four days while they pumped pain medicine through my veins and didn't allow me to eat until the last day. If not treated it can be deadly and once you get it, if you continue drinking excessive amounts of alcohol you most likely will get another attack and/or develop chronic pancreatitis (as opposed to the acute pancreatitis I had). I used to be a hardcore drinker and took it to the extreme when I turned 21, but now I really have no desire to drink more than a beer or two. I'd say it's for the best. So basically what I'm saying is be careful drinking, because it really is a poison and can mess you up in more ways than they tell you in health class. Stay safe peeps!

dBA

Dec 12, 2016, 9:47 am Reply

when I was in college, a fellow student asked a Biology professor if drinking really killed brain cells and the professor replied " actually you would probably lose more brain cells from a good sneeze."

sugarfrosted

Dec 12, 2016, 5:07 am Reply

Sweet, I can continue drinking in order to lecture.

Lue Ciefer

Dec 12, 2016, 7:41 pm Reply

I've known this for a while now, but being an alcoholic myself, it's always comforting to remind myself _

Bobby Baldeagle

Dec 12, 2016, 3:58 am Reply

It sure killed mind 1 stiff drink which was 4 oz. cheep Vodka and 2 oz. diet MD. straight down and my brain in a matter of moment went from dumb to dumber…. thank God I quit 14 years and a lot of AA meetings ago!!!!!!

Megalus Doomslayer

Dec 12, 2016, 9:23 am Reply

Using a catholic institution to measure the effects of alcohol is extremely biased. I wouldn't trust an organization who gives alcohol to minors to justify their actions through unbiased research. They have lots of skin in the game. As long as alcohol is a controlled substance, they will ALWAYS have lots of skin in the game.

Jonnie Callan

Dec 12, 2016, 3:07 pm Reply

I'm wasted right now…

Que Dableyou

Dec 12, 2016, 4:01 am Reply

great video as always!

And

Dec 12, 2016, 9:15 am Reply

I thought alcohol does indeed kill brain cells in extreme amounts, when it's enough to actually slow your breathing significantly. Then it basically suffocates your brain, killing brain cells.

VicariousReality7

Dec 12, 2016, 1:37 pm Reply

There is no safe amount of Ethanol

Shan

Dec 12, 2016, 11:24 am Reply

I drank a fifth or two of whiskey plus countless beers, everyday for about 20-years. I graduated with a Masters degree and two Bachelors degrees within the first ten-years of that inebriated life. There is a window in life when some of us can drink and achieve. It is a small window of Time/ Opportunity. Don't risk it, folks.
Afterwards, I was in numerous bar-fights and 2 divorces.
Enjoy your booze responsibly if you can.

An Evil Stripper

Jan 1, 2017, 12:41 pm Reply

I'm now happy to know I don't have to be so anxious about having a glass once every few weeks! 🙂
Before this I thought it did permanent damage, and so avoided it completely.
You guys are my favourite YouTube channel!

Daryl V.

Jan 1, 2017, 9:48 am Reply

Please do a video on diarrhea…

FunPheonix97

Jan 1, 2017, 4:59 pm Reply

This was an informative video. Even though I won't let myself drink too much, because my dad's a recovering alcoholic. I've had a few alcoholics on my dads side, my grandpa, both of my great grandpas… so yeah, without saying, there's a very real chance of me becoming an alcoholic because of my family history

Chris Overson

Jan 1, 2017, 9:18 am Reply

Thanks for another great video! Two questions then:
1) On a night out can we protect ourselves against a potential hangover, by taking an antidiuretic in theory? (I know the general answer is to drink plenty of water).
2) RE: Vitamin Efficiencies – Can you do or have you done a video on Vitamin Tablets? I take one every day and wondered if they're actually good for you.

Keep up the good work!

boom

Jan 1, 2017, 10:51 pm Reply

Regardless, you're still a degenerate for drinking it.

speed150mph

Jan 1, 2017, 6:29 pm Reply

Wow. I'm one if those who have never drank in my life, and for the first time in my life, watching this video made me wonder if I fucked up XD

ah –

Jan 1, 2017, 5:12 am Reply

What about sniffing markers?

Tyler

Jan 1, 2017, 10:05 pm Reply

You should also spread light of the myth that bad moonshine will make you do blind. That started in prohibition as well when they would distill moonshine with things like car radiators instead of the better copper tubing. People think the methanol also causes blindness. Except the irony is the poisoning of methanol is treated in hospitals with ethanol or alcohol.

Sniperification100

Jan 1, 2017, 5:26 am Reply

I'm not sure if the last bit he mentioned about neurogenesis to be true.

Glytch Halcy0n86

Jan 1, 2017, 8:24 pm Reply

(+Sirskipper 79rebel79) – actually, this 'myth' is not a myth. but it wasnt cuz ppl were "using car radiators to brew". nope. Do you kno the term "Blind Drunk"? It came about cuz law-enforcement poisoned industrial alcohol w/full knowledge ppl WOULD unwittingly drink it
That sounds like legalized manslaughter via-proxy; if ya ask me..

Mike Roberti

Jan 1, 2017, 8:18 pm Reply

Cheers!

maspangel

Jan 1, 2017, 9:53 pm Reply

Nodding my head as i have a glass of whiskey binge watching this Channel.

Phillysub

Jan 1, 2017, 12:51 am Reply

This video was so informative, that I had to have a drink

SkyMushrooms

Jan 1, 2017, 1:16 am Reply

Soo essentially drink moderately from time to time and you're best off?

brickman409

Feb 2, 2017, 4:51 am Reply

I'm watching this while drinking a glass of wine lol

50PullUps

Feb 2, 2017, 5:29 am Reply

(4:26) what is that, and how the hell does it have anything to do with the video?

Doug DimmaDatBoi

Feb 2, 2017, 6:36 am Reply

can today I found out explain why carls jr and hardees are the same restuarant with different names? also checkers and rallys? Just some important life questions I need answers to…

Aidan Burgess

Mar 3, 2017, 12:29 am Reply

Look better with beard

Neil Jones

Mar 3, 2017, 6:01 am Reply

I stopped watching at 1:20. Never trust any research on alcohol that includes the words "healthy effects" as it is 99.9% likely to have been funded by the alcohol industry themselves!!

rosselur

Mar 3, 2017, 6:01 pm Reply

I'm getting hammered this weekend!

Travis Hagan

Mar 3, 2017, 12:25 am Reply

This video is dangerous because people will assume that alcohol doesn't damage the brain. It may not kill cells but it can do terrible damage to the human brain.
Alcohol is pure poison kids

tyler jackson

Mar 3, 2017, 10:54 pm Reply

I've been drinking a 6 pack of Bud light a day for decades. I always drink glasses of water before bed and keep water by my bed if I wake up during the night. probably should quit.

Jason Rogers

Apr 4, 2017, 9:17 am Reply

In the Marine Corps we used to say that alcohol killed brain cells, but that it killed the weak ones first. So drinking heavily every once in a while was a benefit. It was half meant as a joke, but a lot of Marines believed it… lol

Ryan Duncan

Apr 4, 2017, 4:00 am Reply

I have seen studies though that state that glial cells creation can be increased simply through using your imagination a lot.

Lewisking50

Apr 4, 2017, 1:19 pm Reply

Alcohol tastes aweful, hate drinking that garbage…

Desperadox23

Apr 4, 2017, 7:10 pm Reply

I will start intensiv experiments immediately.🍻

Simian Stareyes

May 5, 2017, 3:46 am Reply

you read so differently when your voicing over v. when youre on screen. not complaining just saying. your cadence is way different

Demonmixer

May 5, 2017, 5:38 pm Reply

Brilliant video and really rather reassuring…

Facundo Galo Lopez Meyer

Jul 7, 2017, 1:46 am Reply

Hey, big thing you missed at the end. Only neuron from a certain area can regenerate, and is really not that much.
If i have time i reread the subject and expand on it, for now i will leave a book if anyone feels like reading it himself.
Gilbert developmental biology

aceofspades 4

Jul 7, 2017, 12:05 am Reply

How can a 1993 study which looked at the neuron counts and densities of alcoholics vs non-alcoholics prove that alcohol doesn't kill brain cells, which is supposedly re-enforced by other studies done thereafter, when the video goes on to talk about how prolonged heavy exposure to alcohol can lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome? If Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome leads to a B-1 (thiamine) deficiency, which can lead to neuronal cell death, and EIGHT out of TEN alcoholics have deficient B-1, how could the 1993 study have definitively proved anything? This should be expanded upon. Is it possible that that the neuronal cell death caused by B-1 deficiency doesn't lead to a statistically relevant difference in neuronal cell count/density when examined against non-alcoholics? Or is it possible that the 1993 study and any related studies conducted since (there is not much specified in the video on these future studies or possible peer reviews) were somehow manipulated? Could big names with bigger wallets in the alcohol industry be responsible for favorable or non-conclusive results? I definitely praise the video for talking about other negative effects of alcohol, but don't understand how they recorded it without noticing the contradiction "it was proved that alcohol does not kill brain cells, but 8/10 alcoholics have a B-1 deficiency that (coupled with a terrible diet) causes neuronal cell death."

HD x EXoThERMiA

Jul 7, 2017, 8:49 am Reply

Alcohol doesn't kill brain cells? Does that mean it doesn't make you smarter?

Ethan Letzer

Jul 7, 2017, 4:06 am Reply

This shit needs to be on Ellen or something!!!! First cannabis now alcohol??? What else is a lie?!?!?

. Masamune

Aug 8, 2017, 8:40 pm Reply

ill drink to that!

Rosa Diamonds

Aug 8, 2017, 3:09 pm Reply

I barely drink but cracked open a beer cuz of this video

DarkLight748

Aug 8, 2017, 6:10 am Reply

The myth that people who drink are healthier when they are older is survivor bias.

Concerned Citizen

Sep 9, 2017, 5:50 pm Reply

I'm not drunk. I'm just stupid.

MrXcman92

Sep 9, 2017, 6:06 am Reply

So basically drink in moderation amd you'll be OK.

makaveli 420

Nov 11, 2017, 5:12 am Reply

Drinking causes way more problems than any other drug. Legalize marijuana way safer.

TestingU 4Research

Dec 12, 2017, 3:13 am Reply

Usually like your videos, but this one is bunk. The research you present is based on "observational inferences" – extremely unreliable and not actual verifiable evidence. Alcohol is a poison to the body and brain, that's why it needs to be diluted down so much just to drink it. EX: Wine is only 14% actual ethanol (the actual "alcohol" portion of what is commonly referred to as "alcohol") and 86% grapes/water. Take away the grapes/water and you're left with ethanol, which is so poisonous that you can't drink much of it before you're dead.

Yann Le Coroller

May 5, 2018, 1:20 pm Reply

Liked the new tone, less loud.

Today I Found Out

Jul 7, 2018, 8:48 am Reply

Now that you know about alcohol and brain cells check out this video and find out Why People Look More Attractive When You’re Drinking:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4hJ1Vd4tew

tiki ku

Jan 1, 2019, 6:54 am Reply

If you drink enough to get a hangover you're vasopressin your luck.

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