A Quick Look at the Mental Side Effects of Alcoholism


People are no longer stranger to the idea of alcoholism – the problem has been portrayed in movies several times and some can be witnessed at home, too. The depiction of the typical drunkard in TV programs or movies demonstrates the common effects of alcoholism to a person. The incoherent mumbling, the sudden shift to becoming a chatterbox, and the inability to walk straight – these are just what appears on the outside. There are bigger and more serious effects on the mental health of a person.

The regular consumption of alcohol alters the chemistry of the brain. The amount of alcohol that is not processed by the liver is sent back to the bloodstream, reaching other parts of the body including the brain. Technically speaking, alcohol alters the chemical messengers of the brain called the neurotransmitters. When the neurotransmitter levels are altered, signals controlling the body and its behavior are disrupted as well.

The mental effects of alcoholism can be summarized into four: poor cognitive or learning skills, loss of memory, emotional instability, and poor judgment. Read on to know more about these mental side effects and to understand why an immediate trip to the alcohol rehab centers is deemed necessary.

Cognitive Impairment or Poor Learning Skills

Cognitive impairment is a common effect of alcoholism. The persistent and serious changes to the brain chemistry make learning difficult for alcoholics. Most alcoholics also suffer thiamine deficiency. This nutrient is essential to the health of the brain tissues.

The lack of thiamine due to alcoholism may develop an even more serious disorder called Wernicke Syndrome. This refers to encephalopathy which is characterized by severe mental confusion, poor muscle coordination, and paralysis of the eye nerves. Another mental side effect is the development of Korsakoff’s psychosis. This is a debilitating condition that is linked to persistent learning difficulty.

Poor Judgment and Emotional Impacts

The excessive ingestion of alcohol has an impact on the cerebral cortex of the brain. This brain segment is responsible for processing thoughts which is an important step in making decisions. An alcohol person loses control of the thought processing and may eventually lose his or her inhibitions. The problem in the cerebral cortex is the reason behind a person’s talkativeness when intoxicated. The emotional effects of excessive alcohol intake include bouts of crying, hysteria, anger, and other erratic behaviors.

Here’s the tricky part about alcoholism. Excessive alcohol can actually spike a person’s dopamine level which makes him or her feel great. This encourages a person to drink more. The more a person drinks, the faster the brain chemicals are altered. When the dopamine level subsides, the person experiences the opposite. He or she may start feeling depressed.

Cognitive Decline or Complete Loss of Memory

Chronic alcoholism may completely destroy the brain cells as well as the circuits and synapses of the brain. A long-term alcoholic is likely to experience brain deficits even after sobriety. The cognitive decline may begin with memory slips. However, it may also lead far-reaching aftermath of complete memory loss which may require round-the-clock custodial care.

As per studies related to the cognitive effects of alcoholism to the human brain, women are more prone to mental side effects than men. The vulnerability of the human brain can also manifest in the condition called frontal lobe deficits. The frontal lobe is mainly responsible for brain functions such learning and memory.

How to Address these Mental Side Effects

As with any other form of addiction, addressing problems related to alcoholism require an effective treatment, commitment to sobriety, and several follow-ups. Most of the time, people who have been affected with alcoholism for a long time have already had suffered mental and physical deterioration. Treatments may offer improvement of condition, but it is expected of the alcohol-dependent individual to go through the process of detoxification, withdrawal, as well as psychological conditioning.

It is also recommended that a person consults an addiction recovery specialist when addressing the problem of alcoholism. An abrupt abstinence can do more harm than good. Therefore, having an expert to guide you throughout the journey to recovery is immensely helpful. Making improvements – no matter how little is a good indication that a treatment is working well.



  1. http://patient.info/health/alcohol-and-sensible-drinking
  2. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh27-2/186-196.htm
A herbalist from Western Sahara, a long distance runner, and the founder of Grapefruit Dieter. What started as documenting hundreds of natural herbs originating from the Western Sahara desert turns into a passion of research, sharing the nomads secrets of medicine, and collaborating with researchers across the world.