While heavy drinking poses serious threats to brain health, moderate drinking has been recognized as having protective effects on the brain. However a new study suggests that even moderate drinking harms the brain and creates cognitive decline. This may prompt social drinkers to think about quitting alcohol altogether, although according to SelfHelpWorks founder, Lou Ryan, many will have a hard time doing so. Ryan should know: he has been teaching people to successfully manage their alcohol intake for more than three decades.
According to Ryan, even going out for a drink or two with coworkers or friends after work a couple times a week can make social drinking surprisingly difficult to give up. “It is common for even moderate or light drinkers to develop an emotional sense of the need to drink in certain situations, particularly social events. And the more they do it, the more deeply the desire to drink becomes ingrained within certain areas of the brain that control the subconscious thought process. This can cause drinking problems to develop.”
Whereas social drinkers don’t currently have any obvious problem with alcohol, Ryan warns that they need to be aware of reaching the point where they are no longer being in control of their drinking. “I would urge people who are used to drinking socially to trying abstaining the next time they’re in a situation where they would normally drink. See how it feels. If there’s no sense of discomfort, no yearning for a drink, then you don’t have any emotional connection with drinking. But if you do feel discomfort, it’s very likely because you have developed a belief that you need to drink in certain situations. If you’re at this point I strongly recommend you make a serious effort to abstain for a month or two, and seek help if you’re having difficulty doing so. An online alcohol management course like the one from SelfHelpWorks is a good place to start.”
Alcohol is currently the fourth leading cause of preventable death in the US. The new study, published in the British Medical Journal, presents a legitimate reason for social drinkers to gauge whether they may be developing a more serious problem without realizing it. The study spanned 30 years and involved 550 men and women. The researchers logged the alcohol intake and cognitive performance of the participants and, at the end of the study, took MRI scans of their brains. What they found was that moderate drinking, defined as 14 to 21 drinks per week, increased the risk for atrophy in the hippocampus (the region of the brain responsible for learning and memory). The study also found that light drinking, defined as up to seven drinks per week, offered no benefit when compared to complete abstinence. The conclusion of the study states support for a recent reduction in the UK’s alcohol guidance and suggests consumption recommendations in the US should follow suit.