Alcohol is classified as a central nervous system depressant and results in issues similar to those caused by medications such as tranquilizers, barbiturates, and general anesthetics.

Cognitive changes associated with the intake of alcohol include:

  • Confusion
  • Loss of inhibition
  • Abnormal thinking
  • Poor decision-making

Individuals who use alcohol on a recreational basis tend to recover from these effects without developing any long-term complications. However, loss of mental control and functioning over the short term can still lead to personal and even legal troubles.

Occasional and moderate users of alcohol may experience issues such as:

  • Blackouts where they can’t recollect any events after a certain period of time
  • Being reckless
  • Impaired memory

Excessive Alcohol Abuse

Unlike individuals who drink alcohol occasionally or even moderately, those who drink heavily over an extended period of time may develop deficits in their brain functioning, even if they stop drinking.

The brain dysfunction that occurs is, therefore, not due to the use of alcohol intake anymore but rather from the brain damage caused by the previous frequent alcohol abuse.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, long-term and heavy drinkers will experience the following issues:

  • Mild to moderate impairment of mental functioning. This causes a diminished attention span
  • Diminished brain size due to tissue damage
  • An impaired ability to think abstractly
  • The inability to perceive in two- or three-dimensional space
  • The inability to remember the location of places or objects

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which is a condition characterized by confusion, impaired muscle coordination, eye muscle paralysis, persistent issues with one’s ability to learn, and memory-related problems. This is caused by a deficiency in a vitamin known as thiamine which is used up as a result of heavy alcohol use.


Certain types of cognitive impairment can be reversed through certain therapies and these include:

  • Abstaining from alcohol use – the improvement in these individual’s cognitive abilities is mild but significant if they stop using alcohol. This improvement continues over a period of several months to a year of continued abstinence from alcohol. Brain volume has also been demonstrated to increase with abstinence.
  • Medical detoxification programs – patients can be admitted to alcohol rehabilitation facilities where they undergo detoxification from alcohol. Abrupt withdrawal from alcohol can cause life-threatening physical issues so these patients are withdrawn from the substance slowly and prescribed medications to help control withdrawal symptoms.
  • Psychotherapy – psychologists incorporate cognitive behavioral therapy where affected individuals are taught coping skills to deal with any underlying physical and emotional stressors that may have triggered the alcohol use, as well as helping the patients to deal with any pre-existing mental health conditions.
  • Group therapy – here, affected individuals communicate with and share their stories with those who have experienced the same problems. Being able to relate to someone who has had the same problems helps motivate one to achieve their goal of sobriety.


Individuals who are experiencing any of the mentioned conditions and symptoms due to excessive alcohol use are urged to consult with their primary care doctors so that they can be assessed for possible admission to substance abuse facilities in order to receive the appropriate help.