If you’re in alcohol recovery, you might be wondering how alcohol abuse has changed the structure of your brain. You might also be curious if abstinence from alcohol can reverse the potential harm to your brain. In this article, we’ll explain the brain recovery from alcohol timeline. This field of study is still relatively new, so be aware that developments are constantly being made.
Alcohol’s Effects on the Brain
Some studies have shown that even moderate alcohol consumption can damage parts of the brain. A 2017 British study linked moderate and heavy drinking to atrophy of the hippocampus. For context, the hippocampus helps regulate motivation, emotion, learning, and memory. Heavy drinkers, or those who had the equivalent of four or more drinks a day, were six times more likely to have volume loss in the hippocampus. Moderate drinkers had almost three times the risk when compared to abstainers.
Meanwhile, chronic alcohol dependence can have even worse effects on the brain. Prolonged drinking can literally cause brain matter to shrink, leading to memory loss, concentration deficits, and increased impulsivity. Long-term drinking can also affect the white matter of the brain, which helps connect areas of the brain, including the cerebellum and the prefrontal cortex.
Your Brain in Recovery
Studies vary on their conclusions as to what happens to your brain after you quit drinking. Some are more optimistic in their findings, while others take a more pessimistic view. So what happens to your brain after medical detox? Here is a basic recovery timeline that details what happens after alcohol withdrawal.
Two Weeks of Abstinence
The two-week mark after stopping drinking seems to have some sort of significance. One study conducted found that cerebral gray matter recovery can happen within the first 2 weeks of abstinence, but results varied between regions of the brain. Gray matter contains neuronal cell bodies, neuropil, glial cells, and capillaries.
Within 14 days, some parts of the brain bounce back to full volume. The cerebellum, responsible for movement and fine motor skills, was found to be one of the most responsive regions.
Three Months of Abstinence
By month three, there is a significant recovery of grey matter volume. One study found an increase in brain tissue for those who remained abstinent. However, if relapse did occur, it essentially canceled out the results.
One Year of Abstinence
After one year, you may find your cognitive abilities are back to normal. One study found that brain dysfunction and impairments can affect you for at least a year after entering sobriety. However, it did conclude that many of the effects on the brain started to abate after a year. Another study found that after a year, attention span and memory were better in those who were abstinent one year, compared to those who had less than a year of sobriety.
The Importance of Sobriety After Substance Abuse
While research has shown that the brain can recover after long-term substance abuse, these results aren’t definitive. There is still much to be discovered about what happens to the brain after addiction. This brain recovery from alcohol timeline gives you a basic overview of what can happen to your brain, but research in this field is constantly evolving. In order to stave off permanent damage to the brain, it’s important to minimize alcohol consumption or, ideally, avoid it entirely. If you feel that you have a problem resisting alcohol, it’s important to reach out to people to get the help you need.
Get the Help You Need
Many times, facing mental health and addiction issues are too much to handle alone. The underlying issues remain, and these are the areas that we help with during treatment. We know that nothing is more disheartening than relapsing after leaving rehab, so we give patients the tools to stay sober.