Hangover headaches are the least of your worries. Scientists say drinking can be hard on the brain

For Jessica Hirst, starting the weekend meant drinking wine.

Drinking has also been her go-to in all sorts of situations, from battling social anxiety before a big night out to relaxing after a stressful day at work.

But it also had a downside. I felt sad, anxious and stressed for the next few days. And for those diagnosed with anxiety and depression, the Toronto resident shares the role casual drinking has played in her life and what it means for her health and mental health. I began to re-evaluate

About six months ago, Hirst gave up alcohol completely.

Since then, “I’ve found things to be more balanced,” she said.

It’s no secret that a night of drinking makes your head rattle.From the murmur of the brain at that moment, the headache the next morning, “Hung Shatty” Emotions It often happens after drinking a little too much alcohol.

Research shows that alcohol can negatively affect mental health and increase the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia. Conversely, cutting back can rejuvenate the brain. (Shutterstock)

But what does science really tell us about the effects of alcohol on the brain?

Liver problems, heart disease, and various types of cancer are usually talked about as potential effects of long-term drinking, but research shows that alcohol can adversely affect mental health, as well as cognitive impairment and cognitive decline. Conversely, reducing or cutting may give a boost to the brain.

“When we drink, we see the world through rose-tinted glasses,” says Tim Stockwell, a scientist at the Canadian Institute of Materials Use and a professor at the University of Victoria.

“But that’s a short-term effect. The long-term effect is that even if it’s just a few hours, alcohol [central nervous system] Elevated mood gives way to exhaustion, exhaustion and anxiety. ”

“Rich Evidence”

There is growing evidence of both the detrimental effects of alcohol on the brain and the benefits of abstinence, says researcher Henry Krantzler, director of the Center for Addiction Research and professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Pennsylvania. Dr. reiterated. medicine.

“Sleep is disturbed by alcohol, even in small amounts,” he said, adding that heavy drinking has long been associated with depressed mood.

One study of nearly 40,000 adults found a negative association between alcohol consumption and brain structure, even among those who averaged only one to two drinks per day. (CBC)

One review of medical research published in the late 1990s suggested that moderate alcohol consumption should be avoided in patients with mood and anxiety disorders because it “negatively affects the clinical course and response to treatment.” Abundant evidence” was suggested.

According to Stockwell, more drinking can further accelerate and exaggerate your emotional ups and downs.

“Anxiety is more immediate and more intense,” he said.

sweeping report About alcohol-related harm published in 2018 The World Health Organization (WHO) describes alcohol as a “psychoactive substance” that affects various nerve pathways and parts of the brain.

That is, the brain may experience an eventual impairment while someone is drinking (i.e., increased self-confidence, reduced inhibitions and reaction times, making activities such as driving a car much more dangerous). there is) and is affected after the fact.

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Alcohol use is a risk factor for mental health conditions, according to the WHO report, with “high rates of comorbidity of severe mental disorders with alcohol and other substance use disorders”. It has also been shown that being intoxicated may increase the risk of cognitive impairment, depression, or suicidal ideation.

Krantzler’s research also suggests that high levels of drinking may even reflect aging’s effects on the brain.

one of his latest papers, Published in Nature Communications in 2022relied on the UK Biobank, which provides one of the largest available collections of high-quality MRI brain scans.

This study of nearly 40,000 adults examined whether even small amounts of alcohol consumption could affect human brain structure in the same way as heavy alcohol consumption. It has been associated with changes in white matter, increasing the risk of stroke and dementia.

The researchers found a negative association between alcohol consumption and brain structure, even among those who drank an average of one to two drinks per day, with the effect becoming stronger as alcohol consumption increased. discovered.

“While we cannot speak to causality, it is highly suggestive that the effects of alcohol are demonstrable. [the brain’s] It’s gray matter and white matter, and they’re probably going to affect cognitive function,” he said.

“We saw effects of drinking consistent with those seen with aging.”

Dr. James McKillop, Peter Boris, Chair of Addiction Research at St. Joseph Healthcare Hamilton and Professor at McMaster University, in his research space designed like a bar.
Dr. James McKillop, Peter Boris, Chair of Addiction Research at St. Joseph Healthcare Hamilton and Professor at McMaster University, in his research space designed like a bar. (Mark Boschler/CBC)

Clear Benefits of Cutback

Drinking less or quitting alcohol altogether can alleviate some of these negative effects, multiple researchers told CBC News.

“Especially when people are drinking, on average three or four times a day, or more, reducing the amount can increase mental clarity and improve mood. , I think my sleep has improved and all of this is going well,” said Krantzler.

“When you sleep, you feel better and have more mental clarity. The benefits are clear.”

Some studies have shown that even those who drink more can witness brain-related benefits.

Watch | Drinking can affect mood, sleep and cognitive function.

Your Brain Against Alcohol: Why Going Dry Can Actually Make You Happier

A growing body of research suggests that alcohol can be detrimental to the brain and mental health.

a research paper, Published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholicswhich focused on individuals “highly dependent on alcohol,” found that those who quit drinking reported improvements in anxiety, depression, and self-esteem all at six months.

However, regarding the long-term effects of continued alcohol use on the brain, it is difficult to know exactly how many drinks per week are associated with alcohol-related brain changes.St. Professor at Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and McMaster Universities.

He said even simply cutting back could be beneficial, such as taking breaks during the dry months of January and February and using less alcohol in the “wet” months.

“I think we should think about brain health the same way we think about heart disease health, cancer risk health, or any other kind of health,” MacKillop added. “In many ways, the brain is the most important organ in who we are.”

A self-professed wine lover, Krantzler isn’t advocating for everyone to be a teetotal either. But even in his own life, he has chosen to cut back based on his years of research into the potential long-term harm of alcohol use.

“I’m very careful about how much I drink,” he said. “And I stopped drinking anything but the wine I really wanted.”

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