How Sobriety Can Reverse Brain Damage Caused by Alcoholism
It has long been established that chronic alcohol abuse can cause brain damage that negatively affects a person’s behavior and overall health, but what most people don’t know is that much of that damage is reversible through long-term alcohol abstinence.
Numerous studies have been conducted in hopes of understanding exactly how alcohol affects the brain and if and how we can properly treat it after the damage has already been done. While some studies have shown that medication and other types of treatment are helpful, sobriety remains the simplest and most effective path towards recovery.
Contact us via our form or by calling 800-247-6111 for more information about Ventura Recovery Center and our mission. Our admissions staff is standing by to assist you with any questions you may have.
How Alcoholism Causes Brain Damage
Various studies have shown that the brains of those who struggle with severe alcohol abuse shrink over time, becoming smaller and lighter than the brains of those who do not struggle with alcoholism.
Brain shrinkage is quite serious as it affects the wiring of the brain that allows for different regions of the brain to communicate with each other as well as the fibers, or wiring, that allows neurons to communicate with other nearby neurons.
Most of the brain’s complex mental functions are controlled by gray matter in the cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex is filled with neurons connected by nerve fibers, or the wiring (also known as white matter), to different regions of the brain and neurons inside the brain and spinal cord.
Neurons are able to communicate through the nerve fibers, which have shorter fibers known as dendrites that branch out from them into different parts of the brain. These nerve fibers and the dendrites are what are most affected by the shrinkage of the brain caused by alcoholism. A single neuron can communicate as little as one or as many as 10,000 other neurons at a time; however, the communication between neurons can be severely disrupted if the nerve fibers are damaged.
Although some brain damage caused by alcoholism can be permanent, much of the damage can actually be reversed, including brain shrinkage, with long-term sobriety. Let’s take a look at how it works.
How Sobriety Can Reverse Alcoholic Brain Damage
Sobriety allows for neurogenesis, the growth and development of nervous tissue, which is slowed by alcohol dependency.
A 2015 study that used MRI scans to examine the brains of recovering alcoholics who were abstaining from alcohol showed that abstinence led to an increase in brain volume in regions such as the frontal lobe and cerebellum. Researchers also noticed positive impacts in gray matter volume, which they concluded can happen over a three-week span. Positive impacts in white matter volume continued consistently over a seven-and-a-half-month period of abstinence.
Another study conducted at the University of North Carolina found that new brain cell development is possible in as little as four to five weeks as a result of alcohol abstinence from chronic alcohol abuse, including a “twofold burst” in brain cell production as early as the seventh day of sobriety.
A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that the more recently that participants had had their last drink, the greater the disruption in parts of the brain that are involved in the decision-making process. The increased severity of the disruption increased the likelihood of study participants to resume heavy drinking. However, the study also found that the severity of the disruption decreased the longer participants abstained from alcohol consumption.
Though not all researchers agree on the impact brain shrinkage may have on memory loss and problem-solving abilities, studies have revealed that abstaining from alcohol for three to four weeks can reverse that damage as well.
Takeaway: Every Day of Sobriety Counts
As the aforementioned studies prove, every day of sobriety counts. Although it may be tough at first, allowing your body the time and opportunity to heal is the best way to reverse years of alcoholic brain damage. It may be easier said than done, but it is possible. Ventura Recovery Center is committed to providing a safe and healing environment for those seeking alcohol rehabilitation.