Brain & Cognitive Function

The 2016 Surgeon General’s Report explains the effects of alcohol on the brain as follows: “[w]hen alcohol is consumed it interacts with several neurotransmitter systems in the brain, including the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA, glutamate, and others that produce euphoria as well as the sedating, motor impairing, and anxiety-reducing effects of alcohol intoxication.”1

Research indicates that one way that alcohol may be associated with the brain and cognitive decline is with Alzheimer’s disease. Specifically, some studies have shown an association between moderate consumption and lower risk of developing the disease, as well as an association between heavy consumption and an increased risk.

The Alzheimer’s Organization states:

[w]hile moderate drinkers may actually have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia, individuals who regularly over-consume alcohol may increase their risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia by more than 300%. Frequent over-consumption of alcohol was found to be very common in those diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

There is no single factor which will determine if an individual will or will not develop Alzheimer’s disease. Instead, the chance of developing Alzheimer’s is determined by a number of risk factors. Some of these risk factors are controllable, like heart health or substance use, and others are non-controllable, like age or family history.

Currently, researchers believe genetics and family history are one of the largest contributing factors. 2

  • Non-Controllable Factors
    • Family History & Genetics
    • Women are at Higher Risk
    • Age Matters
  • Controllable Factors
    • Nutrient & Vitamin Deficiencies
    • Heart Health
    • Poor Sleep
    • Smoking
    • Benzodiazepine Use
    • Overconsumption of Alcohol


  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of the Surgeon General, Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. Washington, DC: HHS, November 2016.
  2. Alzheimer’s Organization. (n.d.). Who Develops Alzheimer’s? Retrieved October 3, 2023 from