Difficulty walking, blurred vision, slurred speech, slowed reaction times, impaired memory: Clearly, alcohol affects the brain. Some of these impairments are detectable after only one or two drinks and quickly resolve when drinking stops. On the other hand, a person who drinks heavily over a long period of time may have brain deficits that persist well after he or she achieves sobriety. Exactly how alcohol affects the brain and the likelihood of reversing the impact of heavy drinking on the brain remain hot topics in alcohol research today.
We do know that heavy drinking may have extensive and far–reaching effects on the brain, ranging from simple “slips” in memory to permanent and debilitating conditions that require lifetime custodial care. And even moderate drinking leads to short–term impairment, as shown by extensive research on the impact of drinking on driving.
A number of factors influence how and to what extent alcohol affects the brain (1), including
> how much and how often a person drinks;
> the age at which he or she first began drinking, and how long he or she has been drinking;
> the person’s age, level of education, gender, genetic background, and family history of alcoholism;
> whether he or she is at risk as a result of prenatal alcohol exposure; and
his or her general health status.