The evidence for the harmful effects of alcohol on brain health is compelling, but now experts have pin-pointed three key time periods in life when the effects of alcohol are likely to be at their greatest. Writing in The BMJ in December 2020, researchers in Australia and the UK say evidence suggests three periods of dynamic brain changes that may be particularly sensitive to the harmful effects of alcohol: gestation (from conception to birth), later adolescence (15-19 years), and older adulthood (over 65 years).
They warn that these key periods “could increase sensitivity to the effects of environmental exposures such as alcohol” and say harm prevention policies “must take the long view.” Demographic trends may compound the effect of alcohol use on brain health, they write. For example, women are now just as likely as men to drink alcohol and experience alcohol related harms, and global consumption is forecast to rise further in the next decade. The effects of the covid-19 pandemic on alcohol use and related harms are unclear, but alcohol use increased in the long term after other major public health crises, they add.