Maintaining abstinence from alcohol after going through withdrawal requires great discipline and dedication. Many people in recovery from alcohol addiction need ongoing therapy to stay
Does Alcohol Addiction Change the Way the Brain Works?
May 30, 2020
When a person abuses alcohol for too long, it can, in fact, change the way their brain works. This is because alcohol, like most other substances of abuse, can cause addiction. As a society, it has taken us a long time to understand that addiction isn’t a product of weakness or another issue but simply a disease that is caused by the changes a substance of abuse makes to the brain over time.
This is why alcohol addiction, or alcoholism, requires treatment in an alcohol detox center, followed by treatment in an alcohol rehab center. Alcohol rehab in Florida offers the kind of safe, secure environment patients need to be able to overcome alcohol addiction and retrain the brain to cope with daily stressors without drinking.
Alcohol’s Effects on the Brain
Alcohol affects the brain in so many ways, some of which you may not even consider when you decide to get together with friends and crack open a cold one. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism lists some of the common effects of the substance that occur even when someone drinks just one beer, a glass of wine, or a cocktail. These include
- Difficulty walking
- Slurred speech
- Blurred vision
- Impaired reaction times
- Memory problems
All of these are clear side effects caused by alcohol that show the way it affects the brain. Still, there are many variables that can change the way alcohol affects the brain, including how much someone drinks, their age, how long they have been drinking, their family and personal history, and their general health. All of these variables can change the way and the intensity to which alcohol affects you, even with that very first drink.
Addiction and the Brain
Alcohol addiction, however, is another story. No matter what type of substance you abuse, if you become addicted to it, it will change your brain in ways of which you may not even be aware. In general, the more you drink, the more often you drink, and the longer you drink can increase your chances of becoming addicted. Once you do become addicted to alcohol—or another substance—your brain’s ability to process rewards changes.
- According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, regular substance abuse starts to affect the reward circuit of the brain over time. When you drink, your brain is flooded with neurotransmitters that make you feel the rush of euphoria caused by alcohol use.
- When you drink consistently, your brain is flooded with these neurotransmitters over and over. Over time, the brain starts to adapt to this, making it harder for your reward pathways to respond to this effect. This is why it takes more alcohol to make you feel the same amount of intoxication that you used to feel, an effect known as tolerance.
- When your brain builds up a tolerance to alcohol, you will want to drink more to get the same feelings. In addition, the brain starts to experience two other changes: an inability to experience pleasure from anything but alcohol and a compulsive need to drink. These are both strong indicators of addiction that, when coupled with tolerance, will cause you to continue to drink more and more, often creating dangerous results.
Part of the problem with how we have viewed addiction for so long is that we didn’t understand the changes alcohol abuse causes to the brain. Instead, we assumed that the person always had the potential for addiction because they were “lazy” or “lacking willpower” or “weak” or “unprincipled.” The truth is, though certain factors in your environment, genetic makeup, and upbringing can affect your likelihood of becoming addicted to alcohol, the changes made to the brain are real chemical reactions that alcohol creates over time, causing addiction.
Other Ways Alcohol Addiction Can Change the Brain
Unfortunately, addiction itself isn’t the only change that alcohol can cause to the way the brain works. As mentioned above, alcohol can affect the brain even when used acutely, causing slurred speech, confusion, and other side effects. Here are some of the other ways chronic alcohol abuse can affect the brain.
- Alcohol Poisoning: If someone drinks too much in one sitting, they can experience alcohol poisoning, which, among other symptoms, can cause coma and seizures (Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs). It can also cause extremely slowed or stopped breathing, which can lead to permanent brain damage if the individual is not treated quickly enough.
- Blackouts: Another term for a memory lapse, a blackout occurs when you are awake and drinking yet do not remember what happened during a specific period of time. You might wake up with no memory of the night before or suddenly come back to yourself while still awake. Blackouts are common when you drink too much in one sitting, but they can become more common the more you drink over time. You may also have more trouble recalling events when you have not been drinking if you consistently experience blackouts.
- Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome: This syndrome is extremely severe and can occur as a result of years of alcohol abuse. Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is a result of a thiamine deficiency, which around 80% of alcoholics experience. The early side effects of the syndrome include confusion, paralysis of the eye nerves, and problems with muscle coordination. Later, the more severe side effects will begin to occur, including learning and memory problems, psychosis, and frustrated or violent outbursts.
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: When a pregnant person drinks, they put their unborn baby at risk of developing fetal alcohol syndrome, a brain and body syndrome that causes a number of serious side effects, including a short nose, a small head circumference, small eyes, and learning disabilities.
- Delirium Tremens: A potential side effect of alcohol dependence is delirium tremens, a severe physical and psychological withdrawal syndrome that causes seizures, hallucinations, fear, severe confusion, and delirium. Treatment in a hospital is necessary if someone is going through or even if they might potentially experience delirium tremens, as the syndrome can occur quickly and without warning during regular alcohol withdrawal.
Alcohol addiction affects the brain in many ways, most of which are irreversible in their late stages. But the most important thing to remember is that it is possible to stop drinking and to keep the damage caused by alcohol addiction from getting worse. However, this takes time, work, and professional treatment.
Treating Alcohol Addiction’s Effects on the Brain
Alcohol detox centers like Summer House Detox Center focus first on helping patients put an end to their dependence on alcohol. The substance can cause serious withdrawal effects, like delirium tremens, so it is better for someone going through alcohol withdrawal to get treatment in a professional detox center or hospital. After detox, patients can start to work on putting an end to their alcohol abuse and changing the effects the substance has caused.
In some cases, changes can be made to free the brain from the effects of alcohol. Individuals who stop drinking are often able to stop experiencing blackouts and to maintain a more stable mental state. Unfortunately, though, severe and long-term effects, like Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, can only be prevented from getting worse, not reversed.
In alcohol rehab, patients learn new ways to think about their addictions and retrain their brains so they will be able to avoid alcohol abuse more easily in the future. Still, as stated by the National Library of Medicine, alcohol addiction will always affect you and the way you see the world. This is why it is so important to seek treatment in a professional treatment center offering alcohol rehab in Florida. With the help of professional addiction treatment, you can learn the skills you will need to recover safely and continue controlling your addiction in the future.
If you or someone you know is in need of detox treatment in Fort Lauderdale, give Summer House Detox Center a call at 800-719-1090 to schedule a FREE consultation. You can also visit us at 13550 Memorial Highway Miami, FL 33161. We are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Alcohol is the most easily accessible addictive substance in the United States, which is why it’s commonly used with medications like benzodiazepines. Some people combine