Research Finds it Takes Six Minutes for Alcohol to Reach the Brain

Posted on June 16th, 2009
Posted in Alcohol Abuse

Researchers in Germany have found that it takes only six minutes after drinking alcohol for changes to start taking place in the brain. This is the first study of its kind using humans, as previous data was from animal trials.

After consuming an amount of alcohol equal to three glasses of beer or two glasses of wine, it took six minutes for subjects’ blood alcohol level to rise to .05 to .06 percent—a level that impairs the ability to drive but does not induce severe intoxication. This was proven using magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS).

Dr. Armin Biller from the Department of Neuroradiology at Heidelberg University Hospital said that the study shows that the brain uses an alcohol breakdown product instead of glucose for energy demands. He also explained that during the experiment, the concentration of substances such as creatine (energy metabolism), which are attributed with protecting cells, decreases as the concentration of alcohol increases. Choline, a component of cell membranes, was also decreased. Biller said that this probably indicates that alcohol triggers changes in the composition of cell membranes.

Biller also said that follow-up tests the next day showed that the shifts in brain metabolites after moderate consumption in healthy people are completely reversible. “However, we assume that the brain’s ability to recover from the effect of alcohol decreases or is eliminated as the consumption of alcohol increases,” he noted. “The acute effects demonstrated in our study could possibly form the basis for the permanent brain damage that is known to occur in alcoholics. This should be clarified in future studies.”

In the study, eight males and seven females drank a specified amount of alcohol through a straw while lying in the scanner. In the scanner, the nuclei of atoms in brain tissue were stimulated by a high-frequency impulse and the signal transmitted during the return to the initial condition was received. The study found no differences between the results of male and female subjects, meaning that their brains reacted to alcohol consumption in the same way.

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