People who abuse alcohol are at a significant risk for alcohol brain damage. While it is true that alcohol alone may kill brain cells, this is not the reason for this particular kind of brain damage. The damage is more related to the long term effects of alcohol rather than direct alcohol effects on the body.
People drinking alcohol in an abusive way for a long period of time generally do not have the best diets. They may not have the money to spend on healthy food because they need to spend it on alcohol, or they may just not care about what they are eating because they are so focused on consuming alcohol. In any case, malnutrition can be a serious problem in alcoholics.
The problem is that these poor eating habits can lead to a deficiency in Thiamine (vitamin B), which can cause severe and irreversible brain damage. This deficiency and brain damage is called Korsakoff ’s Syndrome. If someone with Korsakoff’s Syndrome stops drinking, the progression of this syndrome should stop, but it is still unknown if any of their brain functioning or memory can be recovered. This syndrome is more commonly referred to as Wet Brain.
If you have poor eating habits, you may not be getting enough Vitamin B, and the brain is unable to metabolize glucose and it is unable to function properly. This leads to shrinkage in the neurons in the brain.
Alcohol can also block the body from absorbing the necessary vitamins that it needs to function properly. In some cases, Korsakoff’s Syndrome can be caused by malnutrition without alcohol abuse, but the more common cause of this is alcohol brain damage due to severe alcohol abuse.
People who have a few drinks on the weekend and may not eat as well as they should are not the people who are getting Korsakoff’s Syndrome. This irreversible brain damage generally is one of the long term effects of alcohol from long term heavy consumption of alcohol.
The most obvious symptoms of Korsakoff’s Syndrome are apathy, confusion, severe memory loss, and confabulation (taking guesses to fill in memory gaps). It is not possible to diagnose this syndrome until someone has abstained from alcohol for a period of time. The symptoms of Korsakoff’s Syndrome are very similar to how a person would act while they are under the influence, so it would be too difficult to differentiate and make a diagnosis.
Before someone has a full-blown diagnosis of Korsakoff’s Syndrome, they usually suffer from Wernicke’s Encephalopathy. These 2 disorders are sometimes combined into one and called Wernicke-Korsakoff’s syndrome.
Generally, Wernicke’s Encephalopathy occurs first, from an acute thiamine deficiency. The symptoms of Wernicke’s Encephalopathy include involuntary eye movements, lack of coordination in the muscles, impaired movements of the eyes, and confusion.
These symptoms often go unnoticed in people who are heavy alcohol users because they associate them with being drunk, or they don’t notice them at all. If someone notices these symptoms and is diagnosed with Wernicke’s Encephalopathy, they can usually be treated with thiamine.
Of course, if they continue to drink and to not receive enough thiamine, the condition will happen again and will eventually progress into Korsakoff’s Syndrome. Once someone has Korsakoff’s Syndrome, recovery from this is very unlikely.
There are many reasons why people drinking alcohol abusively should seek treatment. Alcohol effects on the body can be devastating in many different ways. Alcohol brain damage is but one of the serious long term effects of alcohol.