Alcohol consumption is regularly linked to long-term brain damage by research.
It can damage memory, problem-solving skills and the ability to read emotions.
Even moderate alcohol intake is linked to brain damage and worse mental skills.
There is little or no evidence that even low levels of alcohol are beneficial for the brain.
Dr Ksenija Marinkovic, the study’s first author, said:
“Like most body organs, the brain is vulnerable to injury from excessive alcohol consumption.
Most common deficits include difficulties with memory, reduced reasoning and problem solving abilities, and emotional abnormalities.”
Naturally, alcoholics are at a much higher risk of brain damage.
One aspect of this is a deficit in reading facial emotions, said Dr Marinkovic:
“Alcoholics have problems in judging the emotional expressions on people’s faces.
This can result in miscommunication during emotionally charged situations and lead to unnecessary conflicts and difficulties in interpersonal relationships.
The resulting negative repercussions can, in turn, contribute to increased drinking.”
The study involved 30 people, half of whom were recovering alcoholics.
Their brains were scanned while they were given a test of how good they were at reading emotions from faces.
The results showed that recovering alcoholics did worse.
The area of the brain important for processing emotions — the amygdala — did not respond as strongly in recovering alcoholics.
Dr Marinkovic explained:
“…deficient activation of limbic structures inside the temporal lobes – the amygdala and hippocampus – may underlie emotional difficulties in abstinent long-term alcoholics.
Whereas nonalcoholic adult men showed stronger activation in the amygdala and hippocampus when viewing faces with emotional expressions, the alcoholics showed decreased activation in these brain areas, and furthermore responded in an undifferentiated manner to all facial expressions.”
Professor Edith V. Sullivan, study co-author, said:
“…alcoholics may be at a special disadvantage in detecting emotion-filled facial expression, which we all naturally use to convey information, such as warnings, love, anger, and defense, among others, and assume that the intended message is accurately perceived.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research (Marinkovic et al., 2009).