SOBRIETY AND THE BRAIN
We all have a pretty decent idea of how drugs affect the brain. Everyone’s seen that old commercial of an egg being fried in a pan that explains, “this is your brain on drugs,” and you get a general idea.
Recently there’s been some attention on how sobriety can affect the brain once you get clean. Some of the effects are obvious, and some may surprise you.
Sober Brain Advice
Comedian and musician Chris Crofton have an advice column for Nashville Scene where he’s called The Advice King. Crofton is an alcoholic in recovery, and he was recently asked what the recovery process for the brain is like once you get sober.
First off, Crofton congratulated the person who wrote in because she was getting sober. He also felt this person was asking in a roundabout way the same question he asked himself when he first got sober: “When will I start to feel better?”
Crofton then explained his personal experience with drinking. He was a drinker for twenty-five years, “that’s more than two decades of self-imposed disorientation. My brain was soaking in a chemical marinade.”
Crofton recalled that the first couple of months he got sober were tough. “You will not feel good,” he explained. “And you will be tempted to take a drink. If you do, you will be right back on the goddamn merry go round. If you don’t, your body will begin to heal.”
The Brain Bouncing Back
While long term, heavy drinking can indeed put people at risk for severe brain damage, but the good news is if you get help, chances are pretty good that your brain will bounce back, and potentially sooner than you realize.
As one report explains, your brain has what’s known as neuroplasticity or brain plasticity, which means a “feature that allows our brain to cope with any damage and adjust to new learning and activity that we acquire.”
Yet while long-term drinking can do a lot to damage the brain, your mind can recover significantly after even after a few months of sobriety. And as this report continues, after years of sobriety, you can see “remarkable cognitive improvements to full restoration can be experienced.” There can still be problems that come with long-term alcohol damage, but at the same time, “all other cognitive functions [could be] back to normal state.
As the site Very Well Mind explains, “Scientists have established that the ‘shrinking’ that alcohol can cause in some regions of the brain that results in cognitive damage will begin to reverse when alcohol stays out of the body for lengthening periods of time.”
In lab tests with rats, after abstaining from alcohol, they show a new burst of brain cells developing because constant alcoholism stops brain cells from growing. Once the drinking stops, brain activity and brain growth can continue throughout several areas in the brain’s structure.
So the good news is there is usually a good shot your brain can make a good comeback once you get sober. Some damage, of course, can’t be reversed, but when you recover, your brain can thankfully recover as well, and potentially sooner than you think.
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