The Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

It is not uncommon to have problems remembering and recalling specific names, dates, or places. One might even have problems remembering more recent information, like the name of a person they just met. Most people have experienced slowed thinking, slurring their words, and slower reaction times when consuming too much alcohol. For people that binge drink or have developed a dependence on alcohol, the long-term effects of alcohol on the brain can be even worse.

For those dependent on alcohol, they can start to experience blackouts. A blackout is the inability to recall events, conversations, and activities that occurred while intoxicated. Blackouts could cover a short period of a few hours or much longer, depending on the amount of alcohol consumed. 

What Effects Does Alcohol Have on the Brain?

There are both short-term and long-term effects of alcohol use on the brain. Alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream, where it quickly makes its way to the brain. Inside the brain are complex structures and neural networks.

Alcohol disrupts the signals being transmitted between the complex structures and neural networks. For instance, short-term effects of intoxication include slurring one’s speech, balance problems, slowed reflexes, and acting impulsively.

When you are addicted to alcohol, the amount of alcohol necessary to experience the short-term effects increases as your body begins to develop a tolerance for alcohol. Continued heavy drinking results in the brain altering how it functions by over-activating the neural networks to compensate for the signal interruptions. 

As one begins to sober up, they can experience severe headaches, hot flashes, nausea, and other such symptoms. The long-term effects of continued drinking cause these symptoms to become more intense. As a result, as the alcohol begins to leave the body, the withdrawal symptoms become too severe for the person to manage on their own.

Instead of going through the pain of withdrawal, they consume more alcohol to make the symptoms subside.   

How Does Long-Term Alcohol Use Damage the Brain?

The effects from long-term alcohol use on the brain are as follows:

  1. Neurotoxicity – The neurons in the neural networks continue to overreact for far too long. When this occurs, the neurons die and stop firing.
  2. Damage to Neural Networks – As neurons die, the neural networks slow down even more as there are fewer pathways in the brain for signals to be sent. 
  3. Slowed Response Times – With fewer neural networks to send signals over, response times become slower and slower. 
  4. Brain Matter Damage – Brain matter that was connected to neural networks where the neurons have stopped firing become damaged.
  5. Shrinkage of the Brain – The cell bodies, gray matter, and the cell pathways, white matter shrink in size as a result of the brain matter damage. 

The cycle continues the more a person continues to drink. As the person continues to abuse alcohol and get older, the amount of brain matter damage and shrinkage continues to increase. Eventually, the person can experience a range of cognitive impairments, including:

  • Difficulty Forming Words and Speaking
  • Difficulty Remember and Recalling Information
  • Inability to Solve Problems
  • Increased Impulsiveness
  • Alcohol-Related Dementia
  • Malnutrition
  • Vitamin Deficiency

If a person continues to abuse alcohol and does not seek treatment, they could develop Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which is permanent cognitive damage. 

Can the Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Use on the Brain Be Reversed?

For many recovery alcoholics in a rehabilitation treatment program, the brain will heal itself once alcohol use has been discontinued. Once treatment begins and alcohol is no longer in the body, the brain will start to grow lost brain matter in about a few weeks. 

The damaged neural networks also begin to repair themselves as the newly grown brain matter creates new neurons. Continuing sobriety for longer periods allows the brain to gradually heal itself and repair the damage caused by alcohol abuse. 

The most noticeable repair to the brain occurs in about a year. However, the longer someone continues to live a sober lifestyle, the greater the reversal of the long-term effects of alcohol use on the brain. 

What Happens If a Person Relapses?

Relapse can occur when someone is struggling with alcohol addiction. Short-term relapse has minimal effects on the brain. Although, if the relapse occurs within the first three months, the rapid regeneration process is slowed. Furthermore, if the person continues to drink heavily or binge drink frequently for longer periods, any healing could be destroyed once more. 

Alcohol Addiction Treatment in Atlanta

The long-term effects of alcohol abuse on the brain can be revered in most cases once alcohol addiction treatment begins. If you are struggling with alcohol dependence, help is available when you are ready at Buckhead Behavioral Health.

We know that admitting you need help and taking the initial steps to sobriety can be challenging. We will be with you throughout the process from the moment you begin treatment until you are ready to reintegrate into your daily routines. 

Our Atlanta addiction treatment facility provides a supportive, caring, and safe environment for you to take the step to sober living. Please feel free to contact us at (470) 391-4603 for further information about our individualized addiction treatment programs today.

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