Ep #82: Drinking and the Brain

By: Dr. Sherry Price
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Drink Less Lifestyle with Dr. Sherry Price | Drinking and the Brain

Do you often experience brain fog, poor decision-making, lack of motivation, or trouble concentrating?

These symptoms are just a small fraction of a multitude of problems moderate drinking causes.

Even small amounts of alcohol affect our cognitive abilities.

This week, I share a few peer-reviewed, scientific articles and research on the impact alcohol has on the brain.  This is something you should know if you are someone who decides to drink.

 

Are you ready to learn the skills and tools to permanently change your relationship with alcohol? If so, I invite you to join Drink Less Lifestyle. It’s where you’ll learn how to become a woman who can take it or leave it with alcohol while creating a life you love. Join Drink Less Lifestyle here!

 

What You’ll Learn in this Episode:

  • What the medical evidence shows about alcohol’s effect on the brain. .
  • What quantity is associated with changes in your brain.
  • The role alcohol plays in what you can achieve in your life.

 

Featured on the Show:

Download my free guide How to Effectively Break the Overdrinking Habit.

If you’re loving this podcast, please rate and review this podcast and help others discover their Drink Less Lifestyle.

Full Episode Transcript:

 

 

You are listening to the Drink Less Lifestyle Podcast with Dr. Sherry Price, episode number 82.

Welcome to Drink Less Lifestyle, a podcast for successful women who want to change their relationship with alcohol. If you want to drink less, feel healthier and start loving life again you’re in the right place. Please remember that the information in this podcast does not constitute medical advice. Now, here’s your host, Dr. Sherry Price.

Well, hello my beautiful friends. I feel so refreshed. I spent last week being a river rat. We went to the Colorado River. We rented an RV. We had another family join us. And do you know when you get back from vacation you’re just on this natural high? Oh, it was so good, so good to be out in nature. So good just to be on the water. We had great weather except for one of the days. And I have to say I really feel differently. It feels nice to get away.

It just gives me a different perspective. For me I love it when I go on vacation because not only does my mind relax and go to all kinds of things because I don’t have to put it in a box like, okay, we’re now at work. We do the work box activities. Now I’m at home and I do the home life activities. It’s really nice when you go to just a different environment. And it allows your mind to just wander to where it needs to go.

And I was sharing with some of the ladies this week in my programs about where my brain really took me. And I just find it exciting because it always tells me something, whether it’s my brain or sometimes I feel it in my body. It just starts pointing me to a direction where hey, Sherry, you’ve been avoiding this part of your life. Or this part of your life wasn’t that important to you but now it’s bubbling up and it’s bubbling to the surface.

And I just got off a call with one of my friends in the group and she’s graduating out of Drink Less Lifestyle. And it’s funny because some of the things that were bubbling up, it’s bubbling up for her as well. And it’s interesting how the universe just puts in these little signs like, you see it in yourself and you start seeing it in others. Or you just find commonalities between connections and people in your life. And it’s so inspiring and uplifting.

So, I was mentioning that I noticed I got into a little bit of a rut with my clothing. And this became highlighted as we’re going through clear the clutter and we’re clearing out our closets inside Epic You that I wanted to feel a little more sensual in my dress. I was kind of just doing the daily routine with my clothing. And it just got to a place where it felt a little blah, even though I love my clothes and like what I’m wearing. I just wanted to feel a little more sensual.

So, I’ve been wearing dresses this week just because, and it’s been so much fun and delightful. So, I love it when vacation just lifts you up, and your body, and your mind just tells you, hey, you’ve not been doing this. And it’s time to resurrect that part of your life. So that felt really good. Now, I will say being on the river and having a boat while we were there, we rented a boat. And we did a lot of boating activities.

Do you know what also goes along with being on the water, and boat, and being at the river? Drinking, it was everywhere. And I usually don’t cue into it or notice it as much given just my process of going through and shedding all of that. But man, everybody is into drinking when you’re on a boat. And I hear that from many people but man when you are on a boat it is true, it is all around you. It was funny because even on the river that we went to, the part of the river we were at, people would boat bar hop. I didn’t know of this concept.

I have heard of bar hopping on St. Paddy’s Day and other times. But I never knew there was boat bar hopping where there’s these floating bars and these floating docks along the river. And it’s common that you stop and have a drink there and then you carry on to the next boat bar hop. So, we did that one of the days because the family we were with wanted to do it, and my husband enjoyed. And I had a drink at one of the bars, but the other bars I ordered water.

And I just have to tell you, ladies, I know many people tell me, “Well, what do I do when my other friends are drinking? What do I say? It’s going to be so awkward.” And I have to tell you that’s how I used to feel and that’s how I used to think but it’s really no big deal. Do you know that nobody questioned me ordering a bottle of water? Nobody found it like I was some Debbie downer or wet diaper on the little tour. And nobody had any opinions of it. I have to tell you, nobody cared. Do you hear me, ladies?

Nobody cares. You know why? Because they’re caring about themselves and what’s in their drink. And looking around at all the people. They’re all wrapped up in themselves. They’re not really worried about what you’re drinking. So, I just want to assure you that nobody really cares what you’re drinking and you are free to order whatever you want. And it’s not like I had a miserable time. I had the best time. You know what we were doing. We were at this one bar and where I was having the water. It was so fun because they had all great songs from the 90s.

And it took us back to Sublime and Green Day, and we were singing along. And we got to tell stories about, oh my gosh, when this song came out I was a junior in college, or a junior in high school. And we were telling all these stories about where we were in our lives when these songs came on. And that was just such a blast. So much fun reflecting on who we once were and where we are, and how we got to our paths today. That is connection. That is what it’s all about I think. I think that’s exactly what life’s all about. And it was so much fun to do that with my friends.

Alright, so on that note what I want to talk about for today is actually to turn it to a bit more of a serious tone. So, you know at my core, I’m a researcher scientists, I love facts, I love statistics. And I am going to be presenting to you some stats about alcohol and alcohol’s effects on the brain because these are known facts. And information is very helpful only if it changes us, meaning changes our behaviors and changes our actions that we take.

So, I think it’s critical to talk about this now post pandemic because these last few years have really changed a lot of our behaviors. And that’s a fact. That is the truth. I see it in my own life. I hear it from women all the time. Some people have gained weight. Some people’s eating has gotten worse. Some people’s eating has gotten better. Maybe they’re even more fit than they used to be. But a lot of the stats we’re seeing coming out of this is our mental health is not good. It’s not good at all.

I know many people that follow this podcast are healthcare practitioners themselves. And they see it in their practices. And they’re coming to me and saying, “Oh my gosh, everything you’re saying on your podcast is really resonating in my patients too. Mental health is in a state of crisis.” And I don’t want to do this to scare people. That’s not my intent when I share this information with you. My intent is if these are the facts what are we going to do about it?

Are we just going to ignore them and be an ostrich and put our head in the sand? Or are we going to wake up and do something about it? Because that choice lies within us always. So, the first statistic I want to share with you is that since the pandemic alcohol related deaths in women, okay, alcohol related deaths in women aged 35 to 44 years of age has grown by 40%. 40%, these are not old ladies. These are younger women. Think about that, 40%.

Many women are suffering at home drinking alone, not talking about it, not knowing where to go, not getting help, feeling ashamed, feeling like they can’t get over this or they can’t deal with their life. And it’s just easier to escape it or numb it, it increased by 40% deaths. This breaks my heart to see the statistic in young women. I don’t even want to go into the childhood or teen statistics. They’re even more alarming.

So, with that let me talk about now how alcohol affects the brain. So, I think many of us know that it kills our liver, we can get a liver transplant, we could get ascites. We can have all these complications based on the liver because it kills our liver. It’s detoxified by our liver and it overwhelms our liver, all of that. We’re always about liver, liver, liver. I even saw t-shirts about that on the river about, don’t worry about your liver, keep drinking.

But let’s talk about your brain because we are in this state of mental health crisis coming out of this pandemic. We spent years alone in isolation and watching loved ones die and people have complications and long COVID and all the things, all the things that came from that. And it has mentally affected us. And one of the ways we think that we’re coping, a lot of people, it’s by increasing their drinking which is only harming the brain. It’s only harming and causing more mental health illness.

So, let’s talk about some ways that alcohol affects the brain. So first we know that alcohol shrinks brain volume. So let me read you this statistic. People who drink just one to seven drinks a week, okay, one to seven drinks a week have smaller brains than those people that don’t drink according to a 2008 study at John Hopkins that was published in the archives of Neurology. Okay, this is not People Magazine statistics. These are peer reviewed journals. It actually shrinks your brain volume.

So further the research has found that people who have two or more drinks per day have even more brain shrinkage. And these changes in the brain occur early. So just think about that, we are shrinking our brain with even a small amount of alcohol. And if you’re in Drink Less Lifestyle or Epic You, I published this inside of our Facebook page because I wanted people to get the gravity of what their actions are doing, not again as a scare tactic but just to be aware of the science that we now have on alcohol. And this was back in 2008.

Now, a more recent study done in 2020 in scientific reports finds that moderate drinking was associated with lower total brain volume in middle ages of life. And that’s defined as 39 to 45 years of age in both males and females. And I’m going to go on and elaborate on this in a bit. But first I want to continue going through some of the studies and some of the statistics.

So, next, when you drink alcohol it lowers blood flow to your brain. So, they’ve done brain scans on heavy drinkers and they showed that there’s a reduced overall blood flow to the brain. So, the brain uses about 20% of the blood flow in your body for its critical and healthy brain function, to mentate, to think, to carry out activities. And so, when levels are low it can lead to a multitude of problems like brain fog, poor decision making, trouble concentrating, impulsivity, unable to concentrate for long periods of time, need to constantly task switch because the brain can’t focus as well as other problems.

And so, I want you to bring this back to you. After these past two years and if you’ve noticed particularly that your drinking has escalated at all or maybe it’s been high, have you noticed poor concentration, poor decision making, brain fog, not being able to feel motivated because you just feel like you have this low level depression, or this cloud over your head? And in addition to that it’s especially important to know that low blood flow on brain scans is the number one predictor of future memory problems and Alzheimer’s disease.  So, it makes a difference, a big difference in your health of your brain.

Alright, the next one is that drinking one to two glasses of wine a day is considered moderate drinking and it leads to atrophy in the hippocampus area of the brain. So, the hippocampus area is the critical region of the brain that’s responsible for learning and memory. And this study was published in the British Medical Journal. So, these are scientifically peer reviewed journals showing us the effects of moderate drinking on the brain.

And so, when they studied people who had four or more drinks per day they were six times more likely to have atrophy in the hippocampus area of the brain. And three times the risk of moderate drinkers. Now, moderate drinking for women is just over seven drinks per week is considered moderate drinking. And I think our society normalizes some drinking. So, we don’t even seem to think of that. Many people’s definition of moderate drinking in their minds is much higher.

Okay, next, moving on we know that alcohol reduces the number of new brain cells. So, we generate new brain cells every day and if we have alcohol we lower that number. So excessive alcohol consumption lowers that generation of new brain cells, particularly in the hippocampus area. So particularly affects our learning and our memory. So, if you feel like you’re young and you’re losing your memory faster than what you anticipated, or it’s just kind of difficult to learn new things, could be due to the alcohol you’re drinking.

And lastly what I want to point out is that alcohol increases the risk of dementia and this has been proven in many studies. So compared to non-drinkers and light drinkers, moderate to heavy drinkers have a 57% higher risk of dementia. And I don’t think any of us want dementia to be happening. So bottom line, I want you to see that drinking is literally making you lose your mind. It’s decreasing your ability to remember, to learn new things, to concentrate, to focus, to go after your goals.

It is significantly decreasing the quality of your brain and hence the quality in what you can achieve in your life. Think about a life where you don’t feel like you have brain power. It’s harder to work. It’s harder to form sentences. It’s harder to talk. You can’t find the words. You can’t remember where you put your keys. And we didn’t even talk about alcohol being a depressant that it is. We didn’t talk about all the effects that alcohol has on one’s mood. These are structural effects. Structural effects that lead to long term health consequences, disease.

But we didn’t even talk about how it inhibits the production of serotonin, which makes you feel happy and calm. Most people don’t feel happy and calm these days. They’re fearful. They’re revved up. They feel anxious. They feel depressed. And alcohol is only going to contribute to that, even a small amount. So, when you harm your brain I just want you to know you’re also harming your life. You are stomping on a high quality life. You are making it more difficult to concentrate and get the things you want out of life.

And you are also inadvertently lowering your mood. If you’re wondering why you might be feeling more apathetic, alcohol could be the reason. So, this brings me back to really thinking about why are we drinking? And do we want to keep telling ourselves that you need it to relax, or you need it to wind down at the end of the day, or you need it to have fun on the river? I have to tell you, your brain doesn’t need it at all. Your body doesn’t need it at all. There’s not one ounce of nutrition inside of alcohol. You need oxygen, you need food, you need water. You don’t need alcohol.

And if you’re telling yourself a story that you need it, you’re just denying the facts. And you’re believing the smokescreen that your brain is giving you, or that what you see in society around you. And I know for me I want to take the best care of my health as I possibly can. And yes, I may choose to imbibe a drink here and there. But I keep it to it’s a here and a there. What my body really needs, what my brain really thrives on is water.

And if I want to live to see my daughter grow up and get married, potentially have kids and if I want to live healthy and a long life which I desire, I need to take those actions now. I need to design my life where I get that life. And I want to know if something is in my control so I can control it. And I want to know the facts and the research so I can do something about it. Not just know about it in my head and say, “Yeah, that’s nice to know.” But have the information change my behavior.

Earlier this morning I was talking to one of my clients in Drink Less Lifestyle and she’s a very prominent person in her community, and in her profession. And she said to me, “You know, I wasn’t even drinking that much. I was drinking five drinks a week but it still felt like too much. And I still wasn’t getting any lower and I wanted your help. And I didn’t think I was doing it to numb out. Actually, I thought I was doing it purely because it was fun.”

And she said, “It wasn’t until you took me through those series of exercises in your program that I saw I was really numbing out. And I saw that my life was 90% great but there were some areas that I can use improvement on and you’ve highlighted those for me.” So, I want to let you know there are women out there where they are just drinking a small amount but it still is making an impact on their life, an impact they don’t like, a relationship with alcohol they still don’t want even at just five drinks a week.

Now she goes many weeks without a drink and it’s very sporadic and that’s where she wanted to be. But here’s the thing that changed for her, she thought it was always that she was doing it for fun. And she wasn’t. So, what I have you do is deep dive into knowing exactly why you drink. Because if you don’t know that it’s hard to get a handle on just stopping and wanting to stop and maintaining it.

So now that you’ve heard these facts about alcohol’s effects on the brain, what are you going to do, anything different? Some of the studies I’ve shared with you are from 2008. It’s now 2022. We’ve known this information for over a decade. So, do we want to keep ignoring the facts and pretending the world is flat, and that cigarettes don’t cause lung cancer, and that alcohol doesn’t cause brain damage? Because we can keep living in that world but it’s false.

And I’m not saying not to have fun. I’m saying have more fun but don’t require alcohol to get it. There are so many ways you can have fun without alcohol. It’s so not needed for a good time. And it’s not needed to relax. There are so many other ways I can teach you to relax. And it’s not needed to unwind. There are so many ways you can unwind. So, be careful what your brain is telling you, analyze it, look at it. Is it fact or is it fiction? And analyze why you want to keep drinking. What’s so painful in your life that you want to keep using alcohol to tolerate it?

Why don’t we just remove the pain from your life so we don’t require alcohol? That woman whose life was 90% great, we worked on the 10% that wasn’t. Your life doesn’t have to be in shambles for you to want to improve it. It could be 99.9% great and you want to work on that .1%. Do it. Stop tolerating things you don’t want to tolerate. Stop doing a habit you don’t want to have. Give yourself that permission. Get help, do the effort. It’s so worth it. It means so much to your brain and your life.

You get years back if you quit. Look at how much the lung regenerates after somebody stops smoking, the same with the brain. Your liver regenerates. Your brain regenerates. It grows new brain cells. Allow it to grow new brain cells, new memory cells, new learning cells. Allow it to invigorate you when you don’t have this chronic depressive liquid coursing through your veins in the morning. Give yourself the gift of more serotonin. Give yourself the gift of more happiness, more pleasure.

Stop thinking your problems can’t be fixed, because they can. Get out of the brain fog. Get out of the COVID coma. Wake up your brain. Start living your life. Start embracing all that it is. Have more energy and pizazz for your life. That’s what I want, zest for my life. I don’t want the doldrums. And I remember my friends at the end of the river trip, they’re like, “I drank all week, I can’t wait to stop drinking. It just feels so awful to keep drinking.” Let these facts change you, my friends. Let’s not ignore them. Let’s embrace them.

And let’s celebrate the life that we have. And if that requires you to manage life differently and you need help, I can help you. We can clear up the chaos. We can get out of the funk. We could get rid of the brain fog. We could stop the self-sabotage. Change is possible and delightful my friends.

Alright, that’s what I have for you this week. I will see you next time.

Thanks for listening to the Drink Less Lifestyle. If you’re ready to change your relationship with alcohol, check out my free guide, How to Effectively Break the Overdrinking Habit at sherryprice.com/startnow. That’s sherryprice.com/startnow. I’ll see you next week.

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