Alcohol and the Brain

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As the risk for Alzheimer’s disease is on the rise, most adults want to do whatever they can to prevent it. In a recent edition of the newsletter, we touched on the benefits of exercise. What about other lifestyle habits?

Occasional, moderate drinking is often seen as heart-healthy and potentially beneficial in preventing dementia. Previous studies suggest that a drink per day could reduce risk of brain aging. However, other research begs to differ.

A recent study that evaluated casual, moderate alcohol intake and its link to premature brain aging was completed using the Brain-Age Regression Analysis and Computational Utility software. The software, known as BARACUS, uses measures of the brain's cortical thickness, cortical surface area, and subcortical volumes found from structural MRI to predict brain age in a sample of adults.

This study featured 240 subjects with an average age of 35 (+/-10.7) years. Of these subjects, 49% were African American and 48% were male. Advanced brain aging was considered the difference between predicted and biological age, known as the “brain age gap.”

A significant link between prior 90-day alcohol intake and brain age gap was indicated through statistical analysis. The results were repeated in a second independent subject group of similar sample size, age, and other demographics.

Results showed that brain age gap occurred even in the absence of smoking (a risk factor for dementia).  Brain age gap was observed by 5 days per drink consumed over a 3-month time frame. This equates to a little less than 1 drink per day over 90 days.

The results indicate that minimal alcohol intake is associated with untimely brain aging. More research is necessary to show cause and effect.

It may be helpful to take a look at the ABV (alcohol by volume) of various drinks. Often, people are consuming more alcohol than they think. A 12-oz canned hard seltzer may be 1.6 drinks, one 12-oz beer may be 2 drinks, and a cocktail with 3 oz of distilled spirits (like gin) counts as 2 drinks. 

A new consumer-friendly calculator at can help people figure out how many drinks they're actually consuming, along with what’s in their recipes.

What should you advise clients about drinking and dementia risk?

  1. Quit smoking to quit drinking. These two habits are often in company and can have detrimental effects on your health.
  2. If you don’t drink alcohol, don’t start. 
  3. Pay attention to your alcohol intake. Be honest with your healthcare provider about your consumption.
  4. Limit alcohol use to special occasions and not daily.
  5. Find other ways to be social like taking a walk, playing board games, or enjoying coffee or tea with friends.
  6. Avoid binge drinking, which can have detrimental health effects.
  7. Seek help for alcohol abuse or misuse before it’s too late.

By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD


  1. Peng B, Yang Q, B Joshi R, Liu Y, Akbar M, Song BJ, Zhou S, Wang X. Role of Alcohol Drinking in Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease, and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Mar 27;21(7):2316
  2. Reas ET, Laughlin GA, Kritz-Silverstein D, Barrett-Connor E, McEvoy LK. Moderate, Regular Alcohol Consumption is Associated with Higher Cognitive Function in Older Community-Dwelling Adults. J Prev Alzheimers Dis. 2016 Sep;3(2):105-113.
  3. Alexanndra Angebrandt, Osama A. Abulseoud, Mallory Kisner, Nancy Diazgranados, Reza Momenan, Yihong Yang, Elliot A. Stein, Thomas J. Ross, Dose?dependent relationship between social drinking and brain aging, Neurobiology of Aging,Volume 111, 2022, Pages 71-81.
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