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Alcohol Kills Brain Cells: Fact or Myth?

Alcohol Kills Brain Cells: Fact or Myth?

The belief that alcohol kills brain cells has been floating around for some time.

It’s understandable why people would look into this, considering that long-term alcohol abuse can lead to serious physical and cognitive impairment. Alcohol exposure during critical moments of physical development, such as during pregnancy, can also have a lasting, harmful effect. But does alcohol really kill brain cells?

Does Alcohol Kills Brain Cells?

Brain cells make up the functional tissue of the brain. The two main types of cells in the brain are neurons, or nerve cells, and glial cells, which are also called neuroglia.

Brain cells are responsible for sending and receiving electrical and chemical signals. They’re the building blocks of the brain, allowing us to perform involuntary and voluntary actions. They allow us to think, move, speak, learn, breathe, and understand the world around us.

Brain damage and brain injury can cause the destruction or degeneration of brain cells, which can affect multiple functions. The most common causes of brain cell loss and damage include prolonged shortage of oxygen (hypoxia), poisoning, infection, neurological problems, and brain damage.

But what about alcohol - does alcohol kill brain cells? No, it doesn’t. Research confirms that this is a myth. Instead, alcohol damages the dendrites located in the cerebellum or region of the brain that plays a role in coordination and movement. Dendrites are where neurons receive input from other cells. A dendrite is also referred to as a tree branch because of its root-like appearance.

’s important to note that the cerebellum contains over half of the total number of neurons in the brain. Any damage, such as damage caused by excessive drinking, can harm dendrites, impact neural communication, and inhibit motor movement and other functions.

How Does Alcohol Affect The Brain and Central Nervous System?

Although cell loss or death isn’t possible from drinking, the topic of drinking and brain cells also presents other issues. Chronic drinking is associated with a variety of other problems in the brain and central nervous system as a whole.


For instance, alcohol can not only damage dendrites and impair neural communication, but it can also restructure brain cells and their connections. This is a common result of alcohol abuse, which can slowly rewire the brain, producing an addiction.

Developing alcoholism is possible through a phenomenon known as neuroplasticity or brain plasticity, which is the brain’s ability to restructure itself as it learns and adapts to new things. Brain plasticity isn’t able to filter out any bad habits, however, which is why long-term and heavy drinking can eventually cause the brain to adapt to alcohol, resulting in addiction.

As with other forms of substance abuse, people who are physically dependent on alcohol often struggle to quit because they don’t want to experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms illustrate the brain’s attachment to alcohol. Medically monitored detox for alcohol is usually recommended to people with alcoholism to help wean them off of alcohol and make recovery easier.

Brain Damage

Although alcohol can’t kill brain cells, alcohol can cause brain damage which may or may not be reversible. Chronic alcohol abuse can lead to a deficiency in a B-vitamin called thiamine. Thiamine, or vitamin B1, is one of the eight essential vitamins that are used by nearly all of our cells and help us convert the food we eat into energy.

People with minor cases of thiamine deficiency may experience symptoms like loss of appetite, weakness, pain in the limbs, and shortness of breath. However, alcohol abuse can lead to a severe thiamine deficiency, which can lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a neurological disorder that does cause brain cell loss.

This syndrome is also characterized by symptoms like memory loss, amnesia, and reduced muscle coordination. However, it’s important to note that cell loss, in this case, was the result of a thiamine deficiency. Alcohol is merely a contributing factor.

The Takeaway

Although alcohol doesn’t kill brain cells, it can cause a variety of other mental and physical problems, including liver disease, dementia, and heart problems. If you’re someone who struggles to control their drinking or has noticed that you’re drinking has gotten out of hand, don’t wait to get help.

Not all the damage caused by alcohol is reversible; however, the longer you go without the assistance of an addiction help center, the more at risk you are of permanent damage.

Fortunately, there’s alcohol treatment that can help you avoid these dangers. Our Banyan rehab locations not only offer individualized treatment for alcoholism, but we also provide alcohol detox to help patients stick with treatment during withdrawal.

Included in our levels of substance abuse treatment is also a variety of therapy options. Our specialists believe that addiction is both physical and psychological, which is why we have therapists and counselors available to discuss any emotional factors that may be contributing to a patients’ condition.

Sobriety is possible for anyone. If you want to get clean and change the direction of your life, call Banyan Treatment Centers today at 888-280-4763. Our specialists are on standby, waiting to help.

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Alyssa who is the National Director of Digital Marketing, joined the Banyan team in 2016, bringing her five-plus years of experience. She has produced a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. Through strategic marketing campaign concepts, Alyssa has established Banyan as an industry leader and a national household name.