Ethanol and cognition: indirect effects, neurotoxicity and neuroprotection: a review

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2010 Apr;7(4):1540-57. doi: 10.3390/ijerph7041540. Epub 2010 Apr 4.


Ethanol affects cognition in a number of ways. Indirect effects include intoxication, withdrawal, brain trauma, central nervous system infection, hypoglycemia, hepatic failure, and Marchiafava-Bignami disease. Nutritional deficiency can cause pellagra and Wernicke-Korsakoff disorder. Additionally, ethanol is a direct neurotoxin and in sufficient dosage can cause lasting dementia. However, ethanol also has neuroprotectant properties and in low-to-moderate dosage reduces the risk of dementia, including Alzheimer type. In fetuses ethanol is teratogenic, and whether there exists a safe dose during pregnancy is uncertain and controversial.

Keywords: Wernicke-Korsakoff; alcoholic dementia; glutamate.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • Ethanol / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Neuroprotective Agents / pharmacology*


  • Neuroprotective Agents
  • Ethanol