Moderate levels of alcohol consumption, while not affecting motor skills or short-term learning, do impair the brain’s ability to form new neural connections, say researchers from Rutgers University. Their conclusion stems from a study in which a population of lab rats were given the equivalent of an open bar. “New cells from brains samples during this period were marked so that later, the researchers could go back and count them. The rats’ motor skills and associative learning ability were evaluated while they were under the influence.”
What’s the Big Idea?
Recent scientific research has tended to endorse moderate alcohol consumption, citing the beneficial antioxidants present in red wine, for example. But even though the rats’ blood-alcohol ratio was .08 percent, this moderate level of intoxication was sufficient to “impact the ability of the hippocampus to produce and retain new cells, reducing new brain cell production by nearly 40 percent.” While consistent moderate drinking may not be problematic in the moment, its detrimental effects can add up over time—and can impact our ability to learn new things.