Depressing Study Suggests Any Amount of Drinking Can Damage Your Brain

There is no "safe" level of alcohol consumption, according to researchers at the University of Oxford

A middle age man drinking a glass of wine serious face thinking about question, very confused idea
Is it time to rethink your nightly glass of wine?
Aaron Amat / Getty Images

If you’re drinking alcohol and claiming health benefits, maybe you’re not thinking right. And the culprit might be booze. According to an observational study from researchers at the University of Oxford, any amount of alcohol consumption can cause damage to the brain.

The current study, which admittedly has not yet been peer reviewed, analyzed the self-reported alcohol intake of 25,378 people in the U.K. along with their brain imaging scans.

Their conclusion? “No safe dose of alcohol for the brain was found. Moderate consumption is associated with more widespread adverse effects on the brain than previously recognised. Individuals who binge drink or with high blood pressure and BMI may be more susceptible. Detrimental effects of drinking appear to be greater than other modifiable factors. Current ‘low risk’ drinking guidelines should be revisited to take account of brain effects.”

Or, more simply: “The more people drank, the less the volume of their gray matter,” the study’s lead author Anya Topiwala told CNN. Alcohol consumption only contributed a small amount to reduced brain volume, but it did so more than any other “modifiable” risk factor (i.e., things you can do something about).

The news gets worse. There was no “safe” amount of alcohol consumption, and the type of alcohol (wine, spirits, beer) didn’t matter, either.

“Even at levels of low-risk drinking, there is evidence that alcohol consumption plays a larger role in damage to the brain than previously thought,” Tony Rao, a visiting clinical fellow in Old Age Psychiatry at King’s College London, told CNN. “The (Oxford) study found that this role was greater than many other modifiable risk factors, such as smoking.” Rao also noted the “interaction” with high blood pressure and obesity on damage to the brain, suggesting that diet and lifestyle are crucial to brain health.

Given the largely unknown link between cancer and drinking, it’s time to consider your options when it comes to imbibing alcohol. We suggest taking some advice from people who drink for a living and fitness fanatics who still like to imbibe.


Join America's Fastest Growing Spirits Newsletter THE SPILL. Unlock all the reviews, recipes and revelry — and get 15% off award-winning La Tierra de Acre Mezcal.