Just the one drink can sometimes prove one too many when it comes to alcohol, according to Chinese researchers who have discovered that even minimal alcohol intake can cause immediate damage to the brain.

However, the study, which was presented to the European Neurological Society (ENS) at its annual congress in Lisbon, shows that any damage does not have to be permanent.

“Bad news for all those who like to have the odd drink — even a small amount of alcohol can be like a punch to the brain,” Doctor Lingmei Kong from the University Medical College in Shantou, China, said.

The study involved testing the effects of alcohol intake on healthy men and women between the ages of 20 and 35. The volunteers were divided into three groups randomly: a placebo group, a low dose group and a high dose group. Even the smallest amount of alcohol consumption altered the mood and behaviour of the test subjects.

Each person in the low dose group was given 0.45 grams of alcohol per kilogram of body weight, leading to side—effects such as depression, speaking more quickly, appearing agitated and suffering from headaches and bouts of dizziness.

The test group that received the higher dose of 0.65 grams developed headaches, dizziness and nausea and also became confused and despondent. Test subjects also had coordination and movement difficulties.

“We were investigating the acute effects of low and high doses of alcohol by diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), wondering whether the consequences of alcohol administration can be observed by the measurement of apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) and fractional anisotropy (FA),” Lingmei Kong told the meeting of around 3,200 neurological experts from across the globe.

“Using conventional MR imaging we could not see any abnormality in any test person, but with DTI we could,” the doctor explained. “ADC values in the frontal lobe and the thalamus tended to decrease in both groups half an hour after acute alcohol consumption.” The ADC values reached a minimum value at one hour followed by a gradual recovery in both low and high dose groups, and returned to normal after four hours.

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