Skip to content
effects of alcohol on the brain hangxiety how does alcohol affect the brain alcohol and mental health short term effect alcohol

5 effects of alcohol on the brain and how to manage them


When you take the first sip of alcohol, it goes straight to your stomach. It skips digestion to be directly absorbed into the bloodstream. Your body is 55-60% water and being soluble in water, alcohol can travel to different parts of the body quickly. The rate of absorption depends on the alcohol content of the drink- higher the content, faster is the absorption and the presence of food in the stomach- alcohol absorbs faster on an empty stomach. It travels to your kidneys, lungs, heart, muscles, skin, and liver. The liver breaks it down into a toxic material called acetaldehyde [1] which is subsequently cleared away by the body. Once it reaches the kidneys, it makes them produce more urine, leading to dehydration [2]. 

How does alcohol affect the brain?

Your brain receives a rich supply of blood. Alcohol from the blood can easily enter the brain within 6 minutes of consumption [3].

  1. It affects all areas of the brain [4] starting from the front part which is responsible for judgement, reasoning, and self-control. Thus, lowering your inhibition, giving you “liquid courage.” This happens after you have had 1-2 drinks.
  2. Once you have had 3-4 drinks, heightened emotions like pleasure, sadness, euphoria, etc are experienced. This is because it affects the emotion and memory areas of the brain, increasing emotional responses and making it hard to remember information. Alcohol prevents the transfer of information from short term storage to long term storage in the brain. After a night out, you might struggle to remember the events of the prior night.
  3. After 4-6 drinks, the brain area responsible for movement, coordination, and balance, is affected causing you to stumble and mumble.
  4. It further affects the part of the brain that maintains your heartbeat and body temperature, lowering both.
  5. By the time you have had 6 drinks, your entire brain is affected by alcohol. Depending on the amount and frequency of intake, alcohol can induce long term and short term effects.

Alcohol disrupts your brain chemicals

The connection of alcohol and mental health stems from its effect on brain structures and chemicals. Alcohol affects the excitatory and inhibitory brain chemicals. These brain chemicals need to be maintained in the perfect balance to ensure optimal transport of brain signals. Alcohol affects functioning of the relaxing brain chemical called GABA. When GABA is released, it prolongs its effect in the brain, adding to the drowsiness effect [5,6]. It also blocks the excitatory brain chemical called glutamate, preventing the activation of brain cells. This also affects learning and memory [6].

Alcohol promotes release of dopamine, the pleasure and reward chemical. Dopamine plays a major role in motivation and contributes to encouraging further drinking to experience the initial “feel good” effect of alcohol. Even a small volume of alcohol can trigger dopamine release and induce persistent intake [7].

Hangover: what happens the morning after

Intake of 3-8 drinks can induce a hangover the next morning, which can last up to 3 days. The number of drinks that can cause a hangover vary with gender, ethnicity, medication, tolerance, body weight, speed of drinking etc [8]. Symptoms like headaches, nausea, fatigue start when the alcohol level in the body diminishes. Hangovers are a result of complex reactions in the body, including dehydration, brain chemical balance disruption, inflammation [9]. The severity of a hangover can be eased by consuming less and spacing out your drinks. 

Alcohol’s end product, acetaldehyde promotes oxidative stress in the body. When acetaldehyde accumulates faster than it can be cleared, more harmful products are created that are part of the oxidative stress process. Protective compounds that neutralise these are called antioxidants and can be found in berries, nuts, dark chocolate and green tea. These can help reduce the effects of a hangover [10]. 

Other ways to ease your hangover is to get sufficient good quality sleep and increase hydration levels. The only sure way to avoid a hangover is to abstain from drinking. Even among heavy drinkers, brain repair and blood flow improved within 2 weeks of abstinence [11].


  1. Paton, A. (2005). Alcohol in the body. BMJ : British Medical Journal, [online] 330(7482), pp.85–87
  2. Epstein, M. (1997). Alcohol’s Impact on Kidney Function. Alcohol Health and Research World, [online] 21(1), pp.84–92. 
  3. From The Glass To The Brain In Six Minutes. (2009). ScienceDaily. [online]
  4. Duke University (n.d.). Content: The Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Estimates the Degree of Intoxication – The Alcohol Pharmacology Education Partnership. [online] 
  5. Banerjee, N. (2014). Neurotransmitters in alcoholism: A review of neurobiological and genetic studies. Indian Journal of Human Genetics, [online] 20(1), p.20.
  6. Chastain, G. (2006). Alcohol, Neurotransmitter Systems, and Behavior. The Journal of General Psychology, 133(4), pp.329–335.
  7. Di Chiara, G. (1997). Alcohol and Dopamine. Alcohol Health and Research World, [online] 21(2), pp.108–114. 
  8. Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). Hangover Headache. [online] 
  9. Palmer, E. et al. (2019). Alcohol Hangover: Underlying Biochemical, Inflammatory and Neurochemical Mechanisms. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 54(3), pp.196–203.
  10. Wang, F. et al. (2016). Natural Products for the Prevention and Treatment of Hangover and Alcohol Use Disorder. Molecules, 21(1), p.64. 
  11. van Eijk, J. et al. (2012). Rapid Partial Regeneration of Brain Volume During the First 14 Days of Abstinence from Alcohol. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 37(1), pp.67–74.

Older Post
Newer Post

1 comment

  • Excellent information to share


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

Related articles

Feb 1, 2023

How to talk about your feelings: Talking therapy benefits mental health

Find answers to why is it important to talk about mental health. More on talk therapy & tips to discuss mental wellbeing

Jan 13, 2023

Beating the January blues: Turn Blue Monday into Bliss Monday

Beat the Blue Monday myth and improve winter blues symptoms with 4 scientific blue monday mental health tips

Jan 12, 2023

The BBC’s take on the nutrients vegans need and ways to prevent vegan deficiencies

Dive deeper into veganism & mental health benefits as seen on BBC. More on how to ensure nutritional adequacy in vegans

Dec 21, 2022

How to keep your brain healthy: 30 days of scientific brain health tips

Learn how to supercharge your brain with this free brain health guide about brain stimulating activities.

Dec 14, 2022

Music and mental health: 5 ways music improves brain health

Why does music make us feel good? There is a link between music and the brain. Find which music helps mental health.

Dec 9, 2022

Vegetables for brain health: Gift yourself a better brain this holiday

Make holiday feasts brain healthy by including 5 brain boosting foods. Read about them and how they benefit your brain

Free UK Next Day Delivery. Order Before 15:00pm | Free International Shipping.

Close (esc)


Use code NEW15 to save 15% on your first order. Free UK next day delivery if you order before 3PM.

Age verification

By clicking enter you are verifying that you are old enough to consume alcohol.


Shopping Cart

Your cart is currently empty.
Shop now