Alcohol can damage your memory and brain function. After only a few drinks your memory can be impaired and your brain processes slow down. Larger quantities of alcohol can lead to short-term memory failure or ‘blackouts’. Drinking heavily over a long period of time can also have long-term effects on memory.
Alcohol affects many parts of the brain and the brain doesn’t regenerate very much if at all. With long-term heavy drinking, recalling old memories and laying down new ones can become more difficult.
Drinking 8-10 units per day over extended time periods results in some mental inefficiency; at 11-14 units per day, deficits (reduced brain capacity) are present; at 18 or more units per day, harm can be of the severity seen in someone diagnosed with alcoholism.
The human brain is still in the process of development until the age of 18 or 19, and it may be more susceptible to damage than the adult brain. In adolescents who regularly drink alcohol, parts of the brain important in planning and emotional control have been found to be smaller than expected.
Over the age of 65, performance of mental tasks declines less slowly in light and moderate drinkers. However, light and moderate drinking (defined as an occasional 1-2 units) is often associated with other factors which reduce mental decline, such as physical and social activity, a good diet, and better socioeconomic standards.
At advanced age, in residential community homes, a ‘social hour’ with alcohol or a unit of alcohol at bedtime, can improve mental wellbeing. On the other hand, alcohol is also a cause of falls in the elderly because it affects balance.