The physical consequences of heavy alcohol use, such as liver damage and high blood pressure, are well known.   Alcohol use at any level, however, is also bad news for the brain. Even moderate users or those who have been drinking in excess for a short period of time can experience mental fog, anxiety, and mood changes.  For people who have alcohol use disorder, binge drink, or have been using alcohol for many years, brain changes affecting cognitive function and mood can become severe and debilitating. The good news is that by quitting alcohol, even those who have spent years throwing off the balance of their brains can begin to heal and restore the brain’s natural function.  Here are some of the changes that will occur in your brain once you stop drinking. 

Regeneration of the Frontal Lobe

The frontal lobe of the brain, responsible for many critical functions including reasoning, behavior control, memory, and motor function, takes a heavy hit when you drink in excess.  Years of alcohol abuse can damage this area of the brain extensively, leading to a wide variety of issues including memory loss and the inability to think rationally. While people in early recovery may still suffer from these symptoms, as well as an inability to process large amounts of information, new cell growth will eventually begin to repair this damage as time passes.  Rational decision making and impulse control are crucial in fighting addiction, and luckily these powerful functions of the brain will return as you begin to heal.

Dopamine Levels Begin to Normalize

Alcohol abuse creates a complex imbalance of dopamine in the brain.  Dopamine release is triggered when you engage in activities you find pleasurable, such as eating chocolate or playing sports, and it teaches your brain what actions to repeat, and eventually, to crave.  Alcohol use overloads the brain with dopamine, while also reducing the brain’s dopamine receptors in the process. When you first quit drinking, the lack of dopamine and diminished receptors can lead to feelings of sadness and hopelessness.  Both excessively high and abnormally low levels of dopamine can have adverse effects, but over time your brain will begin to normalize dopamine levels as well as your brain’s response to the chemical without the intrusion of alcohol.

Motivation Returns

As mentioned above, early recovery might mean struggling with mood and overall mental wellness, but as your body and brain begin to heal, you will experience renewed motivation towards healthy habits in your life.  This means you will be able to take up new activities that boost your mood and stimulate cell growth in the brain, such as daily exercise. The early days of sobriety can be draining and challenging for anyone recovering from addiction, but a balanced and healthy brain will return, and with it, a sense of heightened motivation towards positive goals.  

Serotonin Production Increases

While the short-term effect of alcohol may boost serotonin, a chemical that increases feelings of happiness and wellbeing, the long-term repercussions of heavy alcohol use often include a decrease in serotonin production, leading to an increased chance of depression.  Once you quit drinking, serotonin production can eventually return to normal. If you continue to struggle with depressive symptoms during recovery, you may require medication. By eliminating alcohol from the equation, you can better understand your mental health and determine what it is you need to feel your best. 

Healthy Activity Returns as You Learn New Skills

For many chronic drinkers, alcohol becomes a crutch to handle many situations and emotions in daily life.  You may have used alcohol to become more outgoing, manage stress, or combat depression. While alcohol isn’t a cure for any of these problems, it can numb your natural response to life’s circumstances and make it hard to function without it.  While early sobriety can be challenging, for this reason, experiencing life without alcohol means that you must learn new coping mechanisms and social skills. This is an opportunity for your brain power to grow and evolve as you begin to participate in the same activities as you have before, but while sober.  Depending on how long you have been a heavy drinker, entering recovery may mean you are socializing and emotion-managing sober for the first time. With the acquisition of each new coping skill and the evolution of emotional maturity, your brain builds new connections and creates pathways for healthy interactions in the future.  

While the damage you can inflict on your brain with heavy alcohol use is disturbing, it is entirely possible to experience recovery from addiction and begin to heal from the inside out.  If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, now is the time to reach out for help. At Renewal Lodge by Burning Tree, you will find a team of compassionate, knowledgeable professionals ready to coach each client through the 12-steps and beyond.  By structuring treatment to fit individual needs, including the identification of co-occurring disorders, Burning Tree facilitates an environment of healing and holistic wellness. Here, our clients tackle their addictions head-on and harness the power to restructure their lives through high accountability and life skills that foster lasting sobriety.  We specialize in treatment for the chronic relapser and believe that with the right tools, you can put an end to the cycle of addiction. For more information on how we can help, call us now at  866-287-2877