Recovery From Alcohol Abuse
Though recovery can be challenging, research indicates that a focus on sobriety and other healthy life choices can provide a framework for better brain health. The brain is remarkably adaptable and, with proper care and support, can begin to heal from chronic alcohol use in many cases.
When seeking a recovery partner, its important to select a treatment provider who understands how alcohol use disorder impacts the chemistry and makeup of the brain and provides treatment accordingly. Dont be afraid to ask providers directly what level of experience they have with the neuroscience of addiction and how they incorporate brain-focused care into their treatment plans.
At StoneRidge Centers, we understand the connection between alcohol addiction and the brain. This is why we begin our treatment for alcohol addiction with a focus on healing the brain through a combination of innovative, specialized treatment and evidence-based clinical therapy, all overseen by our triple-board-certified medical director.
Contact StoneRidge Centers today to find out how we can help you or a loved one heal the damage caused by alcohol abuse.
Brain Changes From Sustained Drug Use
Sustained abuse of certain substances can cause potential long-term neurological effects or changes to brain function. These include: . traumatic brain injuries, headaches, a range of persistent neurological and cognitive complications, and brain changes, including loss of gray matter, reduced hippocampal volume, and enlarged cerebral ventricles may occur as a result of chronic substance abuse.10 Potential consequences and brain changes can vary by substance and can include the development of some of the problems discussed below.
How Does Alcoholism Affect The Brain
According to a 2013 survey conducted by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health on the effects of alcoholism, approximately 52.2% of Americans 12 years and above were categorized as current alcohol users. 6.3% of them were heavy alcohol users.
It is not a surprise then that most of the alcohol-related effects including brain damage are rampant in the United States. The mental health field has brought it out clearly that consumption of alcohol potentially exacerbates underlying mental health disorders. This is the first pathway that sheds light on how alcohol affects the brain.
The brain is one of the most delicate organs of the body and needless to say the most vulnerable to injury. The brain damage from alcohol consumption involves a multiplicity of factors that vary from one person to another.
Close to half of the approximately 20 million alcoholics in the United States suffer from neuropsychological difficulties arising from the effects of the interaction between alcoholism and the brain. This ranges from mild to severe. Close to 2 million alcoholics among them drinking underage cases have permanent and debilitating conditions requiring lifetime custodial care.
The explanation of the effect of alcohol on the brain can best be summarized using models developed in the health field.
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The Impact Of Alcohol
Overall, alcohol is linked to over 200 diseases, conditions, and injuries. In 2010, alcohol abuse was responsible for 2.8% of all deaths in the US. While it can take years of heavy drinking for diseases like alcohol-related brain damage to appear, negative effects on the brain materialize after only a few drinks.
As an individual consumes alcohol, he or she will begin to feel the depressant effects it has on the brain. As the bodys control center, the impairing effects of alcohol quickly impede the normal function of areas all over the body. Short-term symptoms indicating reduced brain function include difficulty walking, blurred vision, slowed reaction time, and compromised memory. Heavy drinking and binge drinking can result in permanent damage to the brain and nervous system.
Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder
Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder can be a rare, long-lasting neurological consequence of hallucinogen abuse. It typically occurs with LSD, but may also occur following use of other hallucinogens like MDMA , psilocybin, and mescaline.12
HPPD is characterized by flashbacks and chronic or recurrent perceptual symptoms that can make it feel like you are re-experiencing the feelings or sensations you experienced when you used the drug. The key symptom tends to be visual hallucinations , which may cause significant distress and affect your ability to function.13
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Is There Any Way To Reverse The Effects
Many of the effects of heavy alcohol use are reversible, or can at least be significantly improved. The first step is to stop drinking. While many binge alcohol users arent alcoholics, they need to stop doing the thing thats causing the damage. Professionals such as internists, neurologists, addiction specialists, dietitians, psychiatrists, cardiologists, physical therapists and others can all help the recovery process.Its important to know the human body can handle moderate levels of alcohol without any problems. We see the problems arise with heavy use. According to the US Dietary Guidelines, people should limit drinking to one serving of alcohol per day for women and up to two servings per day for men.Brad Lander is a clinical psychologist and addiction medicine specialist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Frontal Lobe And Prefrontal Cortex
This part is responsible for problem-solving, impulse inhibition, goal setting, decision making, judgment, social conduct among other functions. Effects of alcoholism cause this region to shrink and reduce in mass while lowering the number of neurons within the prefrontal cortex. This causes drastic changes in personality and emotions.
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Alcohol And The Older Brain
As we get older, the bodys ability to process and clear alcohol from your body changes. For example, there is a reduction in your muscle mass as you get older. There is also less water stored in the body. This means that alcohol becomes more concentrated in our system.
As we age, we are also more likely to:
- experience physical health problems
- take medication
- be at greater risk for other disorders of the brain, for example, dementia
Because of this, older people tolerate alcohol less well than younger people. They are more sensitive to the negative effects of alcohol. This means they experience more harms from alcohol use than other adults.
Physical problems can happen at lower levels of drinking in older people.
It can lead to an increased risk or likelihood of making some health problems worse.
What Are The Short And Long
The short-term effects of consuming excess alcohol can result in lapse of judgment, loss of coordination, nausea, vomiting, blacking out, slurred speech, and impaired memory. Prolonged use of alcohol is toxic to neurons and can result in neuron death. Continued use of alcohol can cause atrophy of the cerebellum a shrinkage of the brain. This results in ataxia, a degenerative disease of the nervous system, which is irreversible.
Since alcohol consumption impacts the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in memory formation, overuse can result in memory impairment, Dr. Krel warns. Alcohol is also toxic to the nerves outside of the brain and the nervous system which can result in the loss of sensation of your hands and feet, known as neuropathy.
If you have a dependency on alcohol, it is important to seek professional help. Abrupt withdrawal from alcohol can cause seizures. Wernicke- Korsakoff syndrome can occur in patients with prolonged alcohol use and is a result of Vitamin B1 deficiency. The syndrome is characterized by confusion/encephalopathy, abnormal eye movements/changes in vision, and ataxia or loss of coordination Korsakoff syndrome is a psychosis that can ensue and if left untreated, can be fatal.
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Any Amount Of Alcohol Consumption Harmful To The Brain Finds Study
UK study of 25,000 people finds even moderate drinking is linked to lower grey matter density
There is no safe amount of alcohol consumption for the brain, with even moderate drinking adversely affecting nearly every part of it, a study of more than 25,000 people in the UK has found.
The study, which is still to be peer-reviewed, suggests that the more alcohol consumed, the lower the brain volume. In effect, the more you drink, the worse off your brain.
Theres no threshold drinking for harm any alcohol is worse. Pretty much the whole brain seems to be affected not just specific areas, as previously thought, said the lead author, Anya Topiwala, a senior clinical lecturer at the University of Oxford.
Using the UK Biobank, a substantial database designed to help researchers decode the genetic and environmental factors that lead some people to develop diseases while others do not, researchers in this study analysed data from 25,378 participants such as age, sex, education, self-reported alcohol consumption, brain size and health from MRI scans, information about hospital and outpatient visits, and memory tests.
Higher volume of alcohol consumption per week was associated with lower grey matter density the researchers found, with alcohol explaining up to a 0.8% change in grey matter volume, even after accounting for individual biological and behavioural characteristics.
The Frontal Lobe: Impulse Control
The limbic system is not the only part of the brain affected by prolonged drug or alcohol abuse. The frontal lobe of the brain also suffers. It shrinks and loses its ability to function properly. This part of the brain regulates decisions, choices, and the ability to know the difference between right and wrong. When the frontal lobe is not working as it should, you cannot control the impulse to drink or take drugs. Ironically the essential part of the brain you would use to change your harmful habits is impaired by those harmful habits and unable to make the proper decisions.
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Tips For Cutting Back On Alcohol
Alcohol products are heavily promoted yet alcohol companies often downplay the harm they can cause to our health. To cut through the spin, here are some tips from VicHealth CEO Dr Sandro Demaio on what we can do to reduce the harm from alcohol:
- Learn to reward yourself or unwind without alcohol you can get active, revisit old hobbies or try a new one, get a massage, call a friend or relax with a book.
- Mix up your routine go for a walk around the block instead of having a wine after work or replace your alcoholic beverage with a peppermint tea or soda water.
- Focus on what youll gain by cutting back you might be motivated by saving money, boosting your memory and concentration, sleeping better and having more energy and patience to do things you enjoy.
- The Daybreak app from Hello Sunday Morning also helps it provides confidential health advice and a supportive community to help people reduce their drinking and protect their health.
How Does Alcohol Affect The Brain
When it comes to our brain, even when we drink a moderate amount of alcohol, nearly every part of our brain matter is negatively affected, resulting in both short- and long-term implications.
Any information mentioned is accurate at the time this article was originally published .
In Australia, it is recommended that adults consume no more than 10 standard drinks per week and no more than 4 standard drinks per day to reduce the health risks from alcohol. With this is mind, its important to understand how exactly alcohol affects our brain and what implications this may have on our overall health.
In this article you’ll learn:
- Short and long-term effects of alcohol products
- Alcohol and brain damage
- Tips on cutting back on alcohol consumption
Be Healthy was created by VicHealth to provide helpful tips and advice on how you and your family can stay healthy. You can read more Be Healthy articles here.
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Which Drugs Kill Brain Cells
Different drugs can have neurotoxic and destructive effects on brain cells. Substances that are associated with neurological damage include but are not limited to alcohol, heroin, amphetamines, marijuana, opioids, inhalants, and cocaine.1,2,5
Drugs can damage brain cells through several mechanisms. Psychostimulants and alcohol disrupt the integrity of the blood-brain barrier , which can change the functioning of your brain cells due to increased permeability . Increased permeability means that toxins can more easily cross the BBB.7
Other substances, including alcohol and inhalants, can cause injury to brain cells due to the way they damage the protective sheaths, known as myelin, that surround nerve fibers. This can cause damage like that which occurs in neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis . This type of damage can affect your thinking, movement, vision, and hearing. The neurological symptoms people experience in this case can range from mild to severe.8,9
What Are The Effects Of Consuming Alcohol
Alcohol is a depressant to our bodies. Some of the visible symptoms you are used to seeing in someone whos drunk slurred speech, loss of coordination, falling, loss of inhibition, passing out all of these side effects are a result of our brain cells communicating at a slower rate, explains Dr. Krel.
The initial euphoric effects of alcohol are a result of dopamine being released from the reward center in the brain. Dopamine is known as the feel good neurotransmitter and it is involved in feeling pleasure. Dopamine release is also thought to be one of the mechanisms that drive addiction. In addition to dopamine, drinking alcohol initially releases serotonin which is another neurotransmitter involved in feeling happy and calm.
Alcohol also increases the effects of GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter. By increasing the effects of GABA, responses in the brain are decreased this slowed neurotransmission results in slurred speech, identifies Dr. Krel. Our limbic system is involved in emotional responses, which is also slowed by alcohol, resulting in the loss of inhibition experienced while getting drunk.
Alcohol also blocks vasopressin, a hormone that prevents our kidneys from eliminating too much fluid. This can increase the need to urinate and precipitate dehydration. Dr. Krel also mentions, Contrary to popular belief, getting drunk reduces sexual responses.
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What Alcohol Really Does To Your Brain
What happens once that vodka cranberry works its way through your bloodstream and hits the control center behind your eyes?
We hear many different things about how alcohol affects the brain and body, most notably that it is a depressant. That’s only part of the story. Alcohol is a depressant, but it’s also an indirect stimulant, and plays a few other roles that might surprise you.
Alcohol directly affects brain chemistry by altering levels of neurotransmitters — the chemical messengers that transmit the signals throughout the body that control thought processes, behavior and emotion. Alcohol affects both “excitatory” neurotransmitters and “inhibitory” neurotransmitters.
An example of an excitatory neurotransmitter is glutamate, which would normally increase brain activity and energy levels. Alcohol suppresses the release of glutamate, resulting in a slowdown along your brain’s highways.
An example of an inhibitory neurotransmitter is GABA, which reduces energy levels and calms everything down. Drugs like Xanax and Valium increase GABA production in the brain, resulting in sedation. Alcohol does the same thing by increasing the effects of GABA. This, by the way, is one reason you don’t want to drink alcohol while taking benzodiazopenes the effects will be amplified, and that can slow your heart rate and respiratory system down to dangerous levels.
Below is a useful summary from the website HowStuffWorks explaining how alcohol affects different parts of the brain:
How Much Alcohol Is Too Much Alcohol
A unit is a measure of alcohol. You can find out how many units are in an alcoholic drink by reading the label. The NHS recommends not drinking more than 14 units of alcohol each week. This should ideally be spread over three or more days because binge-drinking is particularly harmful to the brain.
When a person starts drinking more than around 25 units per week on a regular basis, it may start to affect their ability to think and function properly.
Drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short space of time is known as binge-drinking. It is equivalent to drinking 8 units or more for men and 6 units or more for women. It has been suggested that older people should have lower limits because they are at greater risk of the damaging effects of alcohol.
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Brain Shrinkage And Alcoholic Behavior
The shrinkage observed seems to be more extensive in the cortex of the frontal lobe, which is believed to be the seat of higher intellectual functions. This shrinkage generally increases with age, at least in men.
Repeated imaging of a group of alcoholics who continued drinking over a five-year period revealed progressive brain shrinkage that significantly exceeded normal age-related shrinkage. The rate of frontal cortex shrinkage correlates closely with the amount of alcohol consumed.
But this shrinkage has also been observed in deeper brain regions, including brain structures associated with memory, as well as in the cerebellum, which helps regulate coordination and balance.
The brain tries to compensate for these losses by activating brain regions to perform the tasks normally done by the shrunken regions. Functional MRI shows more use of some areas in the alcoholic test subjects compared with control subjects. This enables alcoholics to maintain performance even as their brains are being injured by the alcohol.
What Effect Can Alcohol Have On My Mental Health
People may experience improved social interaction or general feelings of well-being with moderate alcohol consumption. But its important to understand that alcohol use can pose a risk to someones mental health, overall mood, and daily cognitive functioning due to its impact on brain chemicals. Alcohol use especially excessive alcohol use can exacerbate pre-existing comorbid psychiatric disorders, such as depression and anxiety. In others, alcohol may induce depression and anxiety.13
Cognitive effects of alcohol use may include memory loss, problems with learning, dementia, and severely hindered mental functioning in most severe cases.10 Seeking alcohol addiction treatment is the first step in preventing or reducing the negative effects of alcohol on the brain.
Its never too late to turn your life around, no matter how dire your situation may feel in the moment. Reach out for help today and get the care you need. By seeking addiction treatment, you can take back your life and prevent or reduce many of the risks associated with alcohol abuse.
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