Researcher says dry months can hurt more than they help

Although severe amounts of alcohol can affect your memory negatively in a sober state, excessive drinking might also have positive consequences for you.

Ever been really, really drunk? You know that kind of alcoholic immoderation where the morning after has you tossing and turning in pain? Where your hangover makes you think: «I am an idiot, I should be locked up somewhere»? The kind of moments where your body tries to tell you that you might want to act differently next time. But then it’s Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…Thursday! A new round of drunkenness hits you right in the face, once again. This is the paradox scientist Ragnhild Bø spends her time researching.

«More than half of the students I interviewed for my study had a high-risk consume of alcohol,» explained Bø.

Bø just completed her PhD at the Department of Psychology at the University of Oslo. Now her main occupation is neuropsychology: how the brain influences a person’s behaviors. Add some alcohol into the mix, and the result is a cocktail of worries.

«If students consume larger amounts of alcohol over a short period of time, they expose themselves to great immediate injuries, but also long-term damage to the frontal lobes of the brain,» said Bø.

«We found a correlation between getting drunk and handling risk. Students that drink more regularly generally make riskier choices in life than others, even if they are not drinking for several days,» said Bø.

If you tend to hit it up hard pretty regularly, you are likely to not learn from your mistakes. According to Bø, this is the same tendency alcoholics have. But why do we initially take a night out to get wasted?

«Drunkenness can have positive consequences for you. The alcohol works like a social lubricant: you lose your own social boundaries for a period of time. This is one of the main reasons for why you do it again. These positive consequential experiences even tend to outdo the painful hangover the next day,» explained Bø.

But there’s more: Research shows that 15 percent of those consuming alcohol on a regular basis will become addicted. This usually happens in people’s 20s.

«The brains of young people are more vulnerable to external determinants like alcohol, as the brain is not fully developed before you hit your 30s. Regularly getting drunk while young can lead to lasting damage on the structure and function of the brain,» said Bø.

The World Health Organization advises women to drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week, while men are advised 21 units. Beware there is a great difference between drinking a smaller amount of alcohol every day, like continental Europeans, and drinking the Norwegian way – by saving all of your alcoholic units for the weekend. The latter certainly has a higher risk involved.

If this information has made you reconsider drinking overall, you should know that even the process of getting off the wagon can be harmful to your health. When your body works to re-establish in a period of abstinence, it also releases a semiochemical that attacks and demolishes brain cells.

«Detoxes like dry months can hurt more than they heal. However, research shows that the brain begins its recovery after a very short period of abstinence, and often manages to restore back to a maximum level of functioning,» said Bø. «This also applies to alcoholics, although the risk of lasting impaired functioning on the brain is for them more likely even after as much as a year off the bottle.»

Bø says people need to be aware of their own limits and how much they drink. «You should stop excessive drinking whenever the physical effects make you feel incapable of fulfilling your everyday commitments,» she said. «Another sign of danger is if you keep getting drunker than you planned to, feeling unable to stop drinking. A piece of advice is to let others determine whether your alcohol consumption is too heavy. Do not hesitate to consult your doctor if you are worried about your own drinking habits.»