Alcohol addiction is one of the most common illnesses in the US. According to multiple studies, including one by MedlinePlus, around 18 million adult Americans are battling alcohol use disorder (AUD). That’s equivalent to 1 in 12 men and 1 in 25 women. As new information is published on the detrimental effects of alcohol consumption, many ask: can alcohol permanently damage your brain? It’s essential to understand the destructive issues caused by alcoholism, or AUD.
Despite its prevalence, AUD is still a vastly misunderstood illness. People don’t always realize that AUD is a disease that needs professional treatment like any other. Treatment is important if a person wants to regain control of their alcohol intake and, ultimately, their life. It’s also crucial when we consider that alcohol can permanently damage the brain.
Symptoms of alcohol-related brain damage are easy to miss. In part, some of them are similar to the symptoms of drunkenness. This makes it hard for loved ones to recognize that a brain injury, rather than recent alcohol consumption, is the reason behind mental and physical changes.
And that’s why familiarizing yourself with the symptoms of alcohol-related brain damage can help you to help the person you love—or to help yourself. If you need support or guidance regarding alcohol abuse, contact AspenRidge’s dedicated treatment helpline directly at 855-281-5588.
Why Is Alcohol So Damaging?
Most of us are familiar with the mental and physical changes that occur after a few drinks. You’ve likely stumbled a time or two out of a bar and felt the ease of liquid courage flooding your body. Alcohol is well known for its intoxicating feelings of euphoria. Perhaps this is why it’s paired well with celebratory occasions.
The dark side of alcohol is not nearly as glamorous as advertisements may make it seem. For people living with long-term alcohol addiction, these changes become more severe and longer-lasting as time progresses. Without proper treatment, there is cause for concern. Can alcohol permanently damage your brain? Yes, alcohol causes brain injury in a few different ways:
Damage To Neurotransmitters
Neurotransmitters are the messengers of the nervous system. They carry out important functions such as regulating:
- Heart rate
- Sleep cycles
Unfortunately, alcohol interferes with the production and flow of neurotransmitters inside the brain. In short, alcohol can slow down and sometimes block these key messengers from carrying out essential duties.
In order for the brain to function, it has to overreact to the messages that neurotransmitters are trying to send. Over time, neurons in the brain become worn out and stop working properly.
Even when a person stops drinking alcohol, the damage to their neural pathways may be permanent. In these instances, neurotransmitters still find it difficult to send messages, resulting in impaired mental and physical abilities.
Thiamine deficiency is common in people with long-term alcohol addiction. Thiamine is also known as vitamin B1, and it’s essential for brain health.
Some people with thiamine deficiency go on to develop a condition called Wernicke-Korsakoff’s Syndrome (WKS). This is the most severe form of alcohol-related brain injury.
The first stage of the condition is Wernicke’s encephalopathy. People at this stage experience confusion, vision problems, and poor muscle coordination. The following stage of the condition is Korsakoff’s psychosis, which involves severe learning and memory problems.
Other alcohol-related health conditions can indirectly damage the brain.
For example, severe liver disease can produce mood changes, confusion, and hallucinations. High blood pressure caused by alcohol addiction can lead to stroke or vascular dementia.
14 Signs That Alcohol Has Caused Brain Damage
Can alcohol permanently damage your brain? We’ve determined that the answer is yes. But what are some signs and symptoms that brain damage is a likelihood due to alcohol consumption? How do you know if a loved one has alcohol-related brain damage? We’ve listed many symptoms below.
It’s worth remembering that a person is unlikely to display all of the symptoms on this list. A person’s particular combination of symptoms will depend upon which part of the brain has been damaged.
Mental and Emotional Signs Of Alcohol-Related Brain Damage
- Depression: manifesting as a lack of motivation, energy, and interest in people or activities the person once enjoyed.
- Forgetfulness: you or your loved one may find it difficult to remember things, such as directions, appointments, and what they have just finished doing.
- Difficulty with familiar tasks: people can become confused by tasks they’ve always found easy, such as preparing a meal or using a cell phone.
- Difficulty learning new things: you or your loved one may find it hard to retain new information, however simple and straightforward.
- Poor judgment: a person may put themselves or others in danger or be easily manipulated by others.
- Inappropriate behavior: you or your loved one may respond in strange ways to other people and behave in ways that aren’t socially acceptable.
- Personality and mood changes: a person may have extreme mood swings and demonstrate violent behavior, unaware of its effect on other people around them.
- Poor concentration: alcohol-related brain damage can make it difficult for someone to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time.
- Language problems: frequently-used words can suddenly become hard to recall when the brain has undergone significant stress — you or your loved one may struggle to remember names and words.
Physical Signs Of Alcohol-Related Brain Damage
- Impaired speech, vision, bowel, or bladder function: these problems are associated with Korsakoff syndrome.
- Paralysis of the eyes or strange, jerky eye movements: these symptoms are typical of Wernicke’s encephalopathy.
- Numbness in the hands and feet: this is another symptom associated with Wernicke’s encephalopathy.
- Poor muscle coordination: also called ataxia, poor muscle coordination creates problems with balance and walking.
- Shaking hands and changing sleep patterns: these symptoms are most often associated with brain changes caused by liver disease
Can Alcohol-Related Brain Damage Be Reversed?
Alcohol can permanently damage the brain, but it is possible to halt or reverse alcohol-related brain damage.
Medical experts estimate that 75% of people show at least minor recovery when they stop drinking and receive appropriate treatment.
How well a person recovers from alcohol-related brain damage depends upon several factors. Age, gender, diet, and the length of time a person has struggled with AUD all make a difference.
It’s important to seek help as soon as you notice symptoms of brain damage. Early treatment improves chances of a full recovery.
Finding Help For Alcohol Addiction
When a loved one is struggling with AUD, it’s tough on them — and you. It can be hard to know where to turn for help, particularly if your loved one is reluctant to help themselves. If you’re worried about alcohol-related brain damage, the stress of the situation can reach intolerable levels.
This article has great ideas for managing communication and offering support to someone with alcohol addiction.
But getting your loved one into a treatment program is the best way to ensure recovery from AUD and any associated brain damage.
The team of addiction specialists at AspenRidge have helped many people just like you. We understand the importance of a whole family approach to AUD recovery. And we’re available 24/7 to discuss both your worries and the range of programs on offer at AspenRidge. Call us on (855) 281-5588 to find out more.