The Brain Mechanisms of Chronic Alcohol

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Updated: Dec 18, 2019
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Chronic alcohol consumption is known to cause brain disorders due to the influence it has on neurons functionality such coordination and sending of information to the brain. Chronic alcohol use leads to alteration of neuron shapes or possible loss of neurons (Calhoun, 2013). Firstly, binge drinking over an extended period can cause Wernicke’s encephalopathy which leads to temporary loss of memory, impaired vision and motor impairment. Wernicke’s encephalopathy occurs when thiamine is exhausted by alcohol which breaks it down hence affecting the lower part of the brain thalamus by delaying or inhibiting relay of sensory and motor signals to the cerebral cortex.

The second disorder as a result of chronic alcohol abuse is Korsakoff’s psychosis. When Wernicke’s encephalopathy is not treated, it can lead to Korsakoff’s psychosis responsible for permanent damage or memory loss which results in anterograde amnesia (Claus, Kiehl & Hutchison, 2011). Unlike Wernicke’s encephalopathy, Korsakoff’s psychosis is not easy to reverse and even when it is treated, it tends to show the symptoms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy such as short-term memory loss or anxiety (Calhoun, 2013). Korsakoff’s psychosis also has a high chance of relapse due to a high level of stress associated with it after treatment. Korsakoff’s psychosis affects the lower part of the brain such as thalamus and hypothalamus by rendering neurons dormant.

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Thirdly, severe alcohol abuse leads to a reduction in the brain volume. Reduction in volume affects the size of different parts of the brain. Cortical part of the brain is known to be smaller in brains associated with chronic alcohol consumption compared to non-alcoholic consumers or responsible consumers (Claus, Kiehl & Hutchison, 2011). Finally, reduction in cortical volume can lead to impulsiveness and lack of self-control. Reduction of size can be found in cerebellum hence can cause motor impairment.


Claus, E., Kiehl, K., & Hutchison, K. (2011). Neural and Behavioral Mechanisms of Impulsive Choice in Alcohol Use Disorder.

Alcoholism: Clinical And Experimental Research, 35(7), 1209-1219., V. (2013).

Brain connectivity: an opening window into addiction. The American Journal Of Drug And Alcohol Abuse, 39(6), 343-344.

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The Brain Mechanisms Of Chronic Alcohol. (2019, Dec 18). Retrieved from