Skip to main content

Binge drinking is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as "A pattern of alcohol consumption that brings a person's blood alcohol content (BAC) to a level of 0.08% or higher. This usually corresponds to five drinks in two hours for men, and four drinks in two hours for women." Is this the exact amount of alcohol it takes to damage your brain? I do not know, but it would seem a safe line to draw.

I know this could be a difficult lifestyle change for many, particularly if you are a college student. Fortunately, for those who cannot comply with this step, there are ways to minimize the damage by using certain nootropics and is discussed in the nootropics chapter later. For now, I will explain why you should stop drinking to excess with regularity.

Many of you have probably heard that alcohol kills brain cells. This is a myth. A study conducted by Grethe Jensen and Co. (1993) discovered something interesting. The study counted neurons in matched samples of alcoholics and non-alcoholics. Surprisingly, they discovered there was no real difference in the overall numbers of neurons between the two groups. However, just because excessive alcohol consumption does not completely destroy brain cells does not mean damage is not occurring.

Excessive alcohol consumption destroys the dendrites on neurons. Remember that neurons communicate with each other by sending neurotransmitters across synapses. Dendrites are extensions of neurons covered by tiny "receptors". These dendritic receptors allow neurons to receive the neurotransmitters after they have traversed a synapse.

Even though neurons are not being destroyed, their functionality is compromised. You are left with neurons that can send out messages, but have trouble receiving them. What is the point in stockpiling neurons and building connections between them if the neurons cannot communicate correctly?

Alcohol does more than just damage dendrites. Research has shown that alcohol impedes neurogenesis. You do not replenish neurons as fast when you abuse alcohol. This is the complete opposite of what you are trying to accomplish. A dose of alcohol potent enough to cause someone to reach a BAC of .24% decreases neurogenesis by 40%. To reach a BAC of .24%, the average male would have to drink 15 shots in 2 hours. Not likely to happen, but you get the point. If you are going to drink, try to moderate over an extended period of time. Five drinks (four if you are female) the first several hours, followed by one drink per hour after is a good rule of thumb. Certainly, greater moderation with several drinks over the course of an evening is best.

If you do not want to inhibit neurogenesis, and reduce the connectivity and communication of neurons, you should not binge drink. Will occasional excessive drinking do great damage? Probably not, but to be safe, you should probably moderate your intake.