Good News: Alcohol Doesn't Actually Kill Brain Cells


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Recently, I've felt like everything that I learned in grade school is a lie. The Triceratops might not have existed, Pluto isn't a planet, and now this: alcohol doesn't actually kill brain cells. Yes, that's right. Alcohol neither kills nor prunes the little party of punctilious petri specimens we have in our heads. I recently read Buzz: The Science and Lore of Alcohol and Caffeine, by Stephen Braum, and came across this nugget: "... alcohol does many things to the brain, one thing it clearly doesn't do is wipe out neurons indiscriminately." So I turned to a quick survey of reputable sources and, what do you know, there seems to be enough research to back it up. Furthermore, it's old news:

"... one thing people who drink socially probably don't need to worry about is sacrificing brain cells in the process. The research indicates that adults who drink in moderation are not in danger of losing brain cells."
The New York Times

"Even in alcoholics, alcohol use doesn't actually result in the death of brain cells."
Discovery Health

Really, though, all those times I held back for fear that one more beer bong would render me a festering idiot, spitting and muttering monosyllabic phrases like Homer Simpson, I could have drank myself, well, the same? It boggles the mind. Actually, it erases the mind. We all know that despite the salvation of brain cells, binge drinking reduces our ability to remember—this is good or bad depending on your perspective and the exact contents of those potential memories. It especially makes learning difficult. (Is that why drunken people often seem impervious to direction and consolation?) From Braum:

... [R]esearch shows that alcohol—even at very low doses—disrupts the cellular machinery most widely believed to underlie our ability to form new memories.

It bears noting that there are other dangers at play. Excessive drinking can further impair brain function and result in neurological disorders, but the message is loud and clear. Whilst we may unlearn those precious memories of youth, we thankfully can forget that any such unlearning has ever occurred in the course of a few drinks and return to the ignorance of more innocent times when Triceratops battled Tyrannosaurus Rex and Pluto was more than Disney's dawdling dog.

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Derek Brown is a writer, illustrator, bartender, and co-owner of acclaimed bars The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. He sits on the board of directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail. More

Derek Brown is a writer, illustrator, bartender, and co-owner of acclaimed bars The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. He travels throughout the country and around the world in search of great drinks, and the stories behind them. Derek's methodical approach to cocktails was profiled in the Wall Street Journal's "A Master of Mixological Science" and his martini lauded as the best in America by GQ. He's been in numerous media outlets featuring his approach to better drinking, including CNN, The Rachel Maddow Show and FOX. Derek is a founding member of the D.C. Craft Bartender's Guild and on the board of directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail.
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