If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the Military Crisis Line at 988 and press 1, or Text 838255. You can also call 911.

What Alcohol Consumption Can Do to Your Brain

While mild or moderate alcohol consumption – up to two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women – is generally considered to be fine, heavy alcohol consumption can cause problems for your brain. Heavy alcohol consumption can harm your overall physical and mental health and the health of your brain. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) define heavy drinking for men as having five or more drinks on any day (15 or more drinks per week), and for women as having four or more on any day (8 or more drinks per week). This amount of alcohol consumption can reduce brain function and cause memory issues. Keep reading to learn about some of the ways alcohol consumption can impact your memory and brain function.


Drinking alcohol can affect your brain’s ability to function properly. The part of the brain called the hippocampus is where nerves communicate with each other to help people create and maintain memories. Drinking alcohol slows down a person’s normal nerve activity, which affects the way the brain forms and stores memories. This can lead to difficulty remembering events that happened while you were drinking, or lead to “blackouts,” which occur when a person cannot remember entire conversations or events that occurred while they were drinking. Blackouts typically happen after a person has had five or more drinks in a day.

Over time, heavy alcohol use can lead to significantly declining memory or permanent memory loss and negatively impact various other cognitive abilities (such as language, thinking and problem solving) and neurological functions.

Cognitive Function

Alcohol is a depressant. This does not mean that consuming alcohol will make you emotionally depressed. Rather, it refers to the fact that alcohol is classified as a drug that “depresses” or inhibits the body’s central nervous system (CNS). This slows the activity of the brain and nervous system. As a depressant, alcohol can affect your cognitive functioning in many ways. It can affect your inhibitions and how you think, feel and behave by changing the balance of important chemical messengers in your brain (neurotransmitters). While you may feel more confident or relaxed after your first couple drinks, the chemical changes in the brain from disruptions to the brain’s neurotransmitters can lead to increased anger, depression, anxiety or negative emotions. In addition, drinking alcohol can make it more difficult to think through and decide what actions to take while you’re drinking by slowing down how quickly your brain processes information.

Continued, heavy alcohol use can lead to alcohol use disorder where you may experience mental and physical withdrawal symptoms (such as fatigue or headaches) if you stop drinking or greatly reduce your alcohol consumption. Heavy, continued use can also lead to loss of brain matter and increased cognitive problems. People who experience alcohol use disorder often experience “brain shrinkage,” which occurs when the brain loses brain matter over time. Research shows that this loss of brain matter increases with age and the amount of alcohol consumed.


The good news is it is possible to drink alcohol without it harming your brain health. The key is moderation. For men, this means no more than two drinks a day and for women, no more than one drink a day. By limiting your alcohol use, you can help reduce your risk of memory loss or decline in cognitive function. If you need help to quit or limit your drinking, you can call the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free and confidential treatment referral and information service (provided in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders and is available 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Check out additional resources for Service members here.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the Military Crisis Line at 988 and press 1, or Text 838255. You can also call 911.