Alcohol affects the whole body and all areas of the brain, but chronic drinking causes damage to certain areas more than others. Some of this damage can be corrected with treatment and abstinence, but heavy or prolonged drinking causes malnutrition, deficiencies and potentially fatal diseases.
Although the entire brain is affected, the cerebellum and the frontal lobes are most heavily affected by alcohol consumption, according to the National Institute On Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism. The cerebellum is responsible for balance, coordination and movement, and the frontal lobes hold cognition, memory, thought and learning.
Chemistry & Size
Alcohol affects the chemistry and size of the brain, depending upon how long a person drinks and how much alcohol is consumed. Alcohol consumption causes serious vitamin deficiencies and can also cause the brain to shrink, leading to long-term problems with memory, learning and cognition.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, deficiencies in vitamins like thiamine from alcohol abuse can lead to diseases such as Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome. This is comprised of two separate brain disorders called Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis. Symptoms can include memory problems, loss of coordination, visual paralysis (optic nerves), confusion, and loss of other mental abilities.
Liver Disease Affects the Brain
Liver disease can cause a brain disorder called hepatic encephalopathy, when the liver can no longer filter out toxic substances that damage the brain (Merck Manual Online Medical Library). This severe disorder is characterized by mood changes, depression, shaking hands (or flapping), sleep changes and overall personality changes.
Doctors can treat some brain damage with thiamine treatments, which has shown improvement in some cases. Some brain damage appears to be irreversible. Research is ongoing regarding whether the brain can regenerate or grow new brain cells or whether stem cell research shows promise. (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services's National Institute On Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism)