Alcohol and your Brain

Alcohol and your Brain

Many people who engage in heavy drinking have experienced an inability to recall events during or after drinking, also known as blackouts, but the short and long term side effects that alcohol abuse leads to in the brain are less commonly known. Extensive alcohol abuse can lead to a variety of changes to the brain’s structure and function that affect the entire body. While these changes can be extreme in some cases, people who seek treatment for alcohol use disorder frequently experience a multitude of physical and psychological changes when they get sober, including an increase in cognitive function as the brain is given the opportunity to heal.

How Alcohol Affects the Brain

Alcohol effects extremely complex brain structures by preventing signals from being sent and received from one brain cell to the next. When there is a lack of communication in the brain, a person experiences a loss of control and inhibitions. This is why people become intoxicated when they drink alcohol, causing slurred speech, poor memory, risky behaviors, and slowed reflexes.

However, if a person continues to abuse alcohol over an extended period of time, the brain becomes rewired to then expect and demand more alcohol to sustain normal functioning. As the brain adapts to these changes, it causes a person to experience dangerous and potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking. Many people who suffer from alcohol use disorder will continue to drink in order to avoid going into alcohol withdrawal, leading to the damage of more and more brain cells.

While many people use alcohol to relieve stress and anxiety, those who abuse it are at a higher risk for developing co-occurring mental health conditions such as depression and generalized anxiety. Chronic alcohol abuse lowers the natural levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which are the key chemicals that work to regulate a person’s mood and decision-making abilities. A prolonged lack of serotonin and dopamine can result in both depression and alcoholism. The comorbidity between alcohol abuse and depression is a perpetuating cycle if left untreated.

Damage Inflicted on the Brain

Regardless of age, sex, gender, or weight, any person who engages in heavy alcohol abuse can be susceptible to brain damage. This damage can present itself in a variety of different forms.

  • Neurotoxicity

When a chemical or physical substance causes an adverse effect on the structure or function of any part of the nervous system, it is characterized as toxicity. Neurotoxicity occurs when there is damage done directly to the neurons that transmit signals from one brain cell to the next. When communication between cells is impaired, it can negatively affect vision, memory, and even cause limb weakness or numbness.

  • Cerebral Atrophy (brain shrinkage)

Cerebral atrophy refers to any loss of cells or of the connections between them. As the matter in the brain literally begins to shrink, it can result in impaired conscious and voluntary processes.

  • Cognitive impairment

Brain functioning can be impaired by long term alcohol abuse, leading to troubles with learning processes, memory, attention span, impulsivity, and problem-solving.

The sooner a person seeks treatment for alcohol use disorder, the better chance they have at recovering from any brain damage that has already occurred as a result of their drinking. Fortunately, sobriety can reverse the majority of the damage caused by alcohol abuse.

What Happens to Your Brain in Sobriety

Although alcohol abuse can lead to detrimental effects on your brain, sobriety will allow your brain tissue to heal and increase your cognitive abilities. Depending on how long you have been drinking and other factors such as co-occurring conditions and age, it may take anywhere from a few months to over a year for your brain to begin to heal. The process may seem difficult and lengthy, but embarking on a journey of sobriety from alcohol abuse reduces the risks of other health problems that have the potential to occur down the line.

Participating in sobriety counseling and alcohol treatment will help you manage cravings and symptoms of any co-occurring disorders you may be suffering from. In addition, it will prepare you with the tools you need to stay sober and allow your brain to heal.


How Through the Archway Can Help


Evidently, alcohol abuse is a dangerous addiction that can negatively affect your quality of life. It is important to seek help and become educated on the different ways in which alcohol affects the brain.

If you are in need of an affordable alcohol rehab program in Florida, look no further. As an alternative to medically assisted treatment, Through the Archway’s recovery retreat program is a form of drug and alcohol treatment that will prepare you for long term sobriety. Our recovery retreat takes a holistic approach to help people suffering from alcoholism to achieve sobriety.


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