Narrator: This is Science Today. Prolonged alcohol abuse can cause brain cells, or neurons, to die and inhibit the brain from carrying out its normal functions. But Doctor Dieter Meyerhoff, a researcher at the University of California San Francisco, says too much alcohol can also impair the brain in other ways.
Meyerhoff: What is also happening in these brains - apart from neuron death - is that the neurons become smaller. That means their cell bodies shrink and the extensions, called dendrites, they shrink.
Narrator: Dendrites are small, fingerlike branches that allow brain cells to communicate with each other. Shrinkage of these dendrites can cause neurons to misfire and impair the brain's decision-making abilities. But Meyerhoff says once alcoholics stop drinking, dendrites can repair themselves.
Meyerhoff: The number of dendrites and white matter tissue really recovers. And it is likely that it is the re-growth of the dendrites that are important for cognitive function, that they are the reason for the recovery.
Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.