Adverse Brain Outcomes in Moderate Alcohol Consumption

New Study Indicates Moderate Drinking Can Cause Damage to Brain

Conclusion: Alcohol consumption, even at moderate levels, is associated with adverse brain outcomes including hippocampal atrophy. These results support the recent reduction in alcohol guidance in the UK – and question the current limits recommended in the US.  Moderate alcohol consumption as risk factor for adverse brain outcomes and cognitive decline: longitudinal cohort study, British Medical Journal, 11 May 2017

Arrowhead Lodge Recovery, Mens Alcoholism TreatmentThe new study published this week in the British Medical Journal, looked at people’s weekly alcohol intake from the Whitehall II study. This carefully documented study tracked disease and social behaviors in a group of British civil servants for 30 years. University of Oxford and University College London scientists studied participant brain function with regular brain function tests and an MRI.

Some studies have shown that the brains of heavier drinkers change over time with negative results. This new research suggests that the brains of even moderate drinkers change.

Moderate drinkers had a higher risk of hippocampal atrophy than those who did not report any drinking. The moderate drinking group was consuming about 14 to 21 units of alcohol per week –  about one medium glass of wine each night, plus a little extra on the weekends.

There was no protective effect (that is, reduced odds of atrophy) with light drinking (1-<7 units a week) over abstinence.

The study’s heaviest drinkers had a little more than two medium glasses of wine or two beers each night.

This is not the first research to question whether drinking even moderate amounts had an impact, though results have been mixed. A 2008 study found that the more people drank, the smaller their total brain volume, meaning their brains aged faster.

Our Assessment of the Study

Moderate drinkers can experience loss of hippocampal brain function? Shocking – and interesting.

Hippocampal injury or loss of function is serious; the hippocampus processes emotions and memory. This study presents the possibility that even social or ‘moderate’ alcohol consumption can cause hippocampal atrophy in at least some individuals.

Studies have already shown that social ‘binge drinking‘ causes damage to the brain.

How much alcohol in standard drinks, from the BMJ

Hippocampal Atrophy Symptoms

  • Memory loss including short term and long term memory loss; based on the severity
  • Difficulty recalling recent events
  • Disorientation
  • Difficulty with spatial navigation
  • Loss of direction and tendency to get lost in otherwise familiar environment
  • Olfactory dysfunction
  • Emotional disturbances
  • Behavioral changes
  • Amnesia

Moderate Drinker or ‘Functional’ Alcoholic?

As researchers have noted, when participants are asked to self-report drinking habits – most will under-report alcohol consumption if their drinking is above ‘socially accepted’ limits.

When work pressures and emotional and family crisis escalate – it is incredibly easy to slip into a heavy drinking pattern. For some, this is a temporary condition. For others, heavy drinking becomes a permanent way of life.

Functional Alcoholics

Arrowhead Lodge Recovery,-Mens Functional Alcoholism RecoveryIt is estimated that 20% of alcoholics are ‘functional alcoholics‘. The emotional impact on significant others and family can be devastating.

The ‘functional alcoholic subtype‘ are least like the typical alcoholic. They are often well-educated, middle-aged and with stable jobs and families. This functional category highlighted the hidden nature of problem drinking for many people.

High-functioning alcoholics are able to hold down a job (often well-paid) and appear in control of their lives. These individuals are often extremely experienced at hiding their drinking habits. And due to the seemingly minimal consequences [to them] of their drinking – are unlikely to see it as a problem.

A serious obstacle in identifying and getting help for high-functioning alcoholics is that high-functioning alcoholics often do not meet the criteria for alcohol abuse, as described in the psychiatric diagnostic manual. They have good jobs, perform the expected tasks of daily life and avoid legal problems.

See Symptoms of Alcoholism.

Alcohol Damages the Hippocampus – What is the Hippocampus? Hippocampus

The Quick Facts

Location:  Part of the Limbic system, in each temporal lobe
Function:  Responsible for processing of long term memory and emotional responses 


  • The hippocampus is a part of the brain that helps in memory and spatial navigation.
  • The hippocampus helps in formation of long term memory.
  • Any damage in the hippocampus can cause memory loss and disorientation.
  • Damage in the hippocampus can lead to conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, amnesia, dementia.

Hippocampal atrophy is a condition that causes cognitive and memory dysfunction due to degeneration of the hippocampus.

Anti-depressant drugs can help in management of the memory and emotional issues; complete cure of hippocampal atrophy is not possible currently.

Can Alcohol Abstinence Reverse Brain Damage?

Several studies have shown that years of abstaining from booze can allow brain regions to return to their original volume and can repair neural connections across different regions. Much of this restoration occurs in the system most adversely affected by chronic alcoholism—the frontocerebellar circuitry, which regulates decision making, reasoning and problem solving.

Other reports, however, have found sustained injury in certain areas. Some former alcohol abusers show permanent damage to the hippocampus, a brain region that regulates long-term memory and spatial navigation; and only partial resolution of lesions on the white matter.

Although the effects of abstinence on the alcohol-abused brain vary, it appears that we display at least some ability to recover from the effects of excessive drinking.

How to Get Help for Alcoholism

Arrowhead Lodge Recovery, Boomer Men's Rehab, Prescott AZArrowhead Lodge Recovery is a gender specific rehab for men, ages 30 and older; located in the beautiful mountains of Prescott, Arizona. We provide addiction and depression treatment for men who suffer from alcoholism; as well as treating co-occurring disorders.

Our average client age is 45-65; baby boomers welcome!

We use a multi-disciplinary addiction treatment approach implemented by licensed professionals. The Arrowhead Lodge Recovery Staff includes a Physician-Addictionologist, Addiction Psychiatrist, Doctor of Clinical Psychology, Registered Nurse, several Licensed Therapists, and an addiction Nutritionist.

Mindfulness training, healthy exercise, nutritional counseling and educationcognitive behavioral therapy and psychoeducation are a part of our treatment program. We have chosen to keep our facility small and staff to client ratio large. Each client receives individual therapy and counseling; as well as group therapy and counseling.

Chronic Alcoholism Treatment Program

Arrowhead-Lodge-Recovery,Men's Rehab Group Therapy, Prescott AZThe experienced, licensed and accredited Arrowhead Lodge Recovery staff allows us to help men with chronic alcoholism for whom previous treatment attempts may have failed.

We assist our clients in finding their personal connection to the spiritual. Through years of experience, we believe in the power of spirituality in the addiction healing process. We assist our clients in discovering their unique path to living a more authentic and joyful life. See our article on Mindfulness Meditation – The 10th Step.

Impaired Professionals Well-Being Program

We have an Impaired Professionals well-being program. If you are monitored by a board that oversees your professional license and requires an assessment, addiction treatment, or both – our Impaired Professionals Well-Being Program provides solutions.

Alcoholism Recovery Journey to Wholeness and Healing

Arrowhead Lodge Recovery, Mens Rehab, Thumb Butte Trail

At our mountain retreat facility near Prescott, Arizona – men find and strengthen inner peace, and experience tranquility.

We equip our clients with the depth and stability to handle all the curves and disappointments – as well as joys – in their regular daily lives once they leave Arrowhead Lodge Recovery.

Start your journey to alcohol recovery by contacting Arrowhead Lodge Recovery.

Your confidentiality is assured when you contact us.

Speak personally and privately with Executive Director Dr. Kenneth Chance at (888) 654-2800.

Related Info:

Functional Alcoholics – Family Impact, Hidden Trauma
Arrowhead Lodge Recovery Aftercare: SoberLink Clinical Monitoring  
Well Being Recovery Program for Professionals
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Impaired Professionals Comprehensive Evaluation and Assessment
Arrowhead Lodge Recovery – 5 Year Continuum of Care Model
Mindfulness in Addiction Treatment
How Addiction Hijacks the Brain – Mindfulness Restores Sobriety
Mindfulness Meditation Reduces Pain
Harvard MRI Study Evidence of Meditation’s Cognitive Benefits
Mindfulness Meditation – The 10th Step
Functional Alcoholics – Family Impact, Hidden Trauma

How Addiction Hijacks the Brain – Mindfulness Restores Sobriety
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