Is Brain Damage from Alcohol Reversible?

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Who doesn’t love alcohol? From parties, weddings, reunions to simple gatherings, alcohol is just hard to ignore! Alcohol has been used not only by adults but young ones as well.

Researches have shown that approximately 80% of secondary students have tried alcohol.

Even if experimentation with alcohol can be normal among kids, it is not considered legal and safe.

“One key symptom of alcoholism is that the individual comes to need a drink for every mood--one to calm down, one to perk up, one to celebrate, one to deal with disappointment, and so on.” - Phyllis A. Balch

Alcohol stunts the emotional, mental, and spiritual growth of a person. Alcohol starts affecting an individual’s brain as soon as it enters his or her bloodstream.

In a healthy individual, the liver instantly filters alcohol, assisting the body to take away the substance.

But, when that person drinks excessively, the liver can never filter the alcohol quickly enough.

This condition triggers abrupt brain changes. Over time, extreme consumption of alcohol can destroy both the liver and brain, causing lasting damages.

Alcohol destroys brain cells and indentures brain tissue. People with a history of extreme alcohol consumption develop nutritional deficiencies that destroy brain function.

However, the definite symptoms of alcohol-related brain destruction depend on a person's overall health, liver functions, how much they drink, and other factors.

Alcoholics who are at risk of developing alcohol-related brain damages can benefit from a new treatment for alcoholism available at our Abbeycare clinics.

Can alcohol cause brain zaps?

Alcohol affects the brain - from blurred vision to difficulty walking, slowed reaction times, slurred speech, and impaired memory.

Some of these impairments are visible after few drinks and instantly resolve when consumption stops.

Conversely, persons who drink excessively for a long time may develop brain deficits that persist after experiencing sobriety. 

Alcohol intoxication is the ultimate result of short-term effects on the brain, with indications that can differ radically depending on the amount of alcohol they consume, how often they drink, their weight, and their unique physical makeup.

Symptoms often include physical impairment and mild cognitive. Long term alcohol consumption can also cause brain zaps

The immediate effects of alcohol on the central nervous system are due to its influence on the organ’s information-processing and communication pathways.

Unfortunately, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to various adverse mental effects.

Continuous drinking despite these symptoms can lead to alcohol overdose, also known as “alcohol poisoning.”

Alcohol poisoning is an extremely dangerous and possibly deadly consequence of excessive alcohol consumption in a short period.

Its symptoms often include the following:

  • problems with remaining conscious
  • cause brain zaps
  • seizure
  • confusion
  • heart rate slowing
  • respiratory suppression
  • permanent cerebral disruption or impairment
  • vomiting
  • in the worst cases, death

Alcohol is associated with more than 200 conditions, injuries, and diseases. In 2010, alcohol abuse was accountable for 2.8% of the mortality rate in the United States.

Though it can take several years of excessive alcohol consumption for diseases to appear, adverse brain effects materialized after only several drinks.

Individuals who consume alcohol will begin to experience the sedative effects it has on the brain. The damaging effects of alcohol rapidly impede normal brain function.

Those who keep on drinking alcohol are vulnerable to adversative alcohol-related complications.

Long-term health risks include liver, heart, digestion problems, weakening of the immune system, cancer, development of other brain health issues like anxiety and depression, and sleep or mood disturbances.

Alcohol can also wreak lasting harm on your cognitive function and lead to shrinkage of the brain’s central part called the hippocampus.

A research study conducted by the University of Oxford noted that researchers monitored their respondents for thirty years.

They track their drinking schedules or patterns and even their brain health conditions.

Participants in this research study who drank four or more drinks per day had experienced the peril of hippocampus contraction compared to non-drinkers.

It means that brain contraction was proportional to the alcohol intake of the respondents. Those who drank excessive alcohol also experienced WKS or Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome development, also known as “wet brain.”

This condition causes persistent brain confusion, difficulty with coordination, eye movement disturbances, and persistent memory and learning problems.

Long-term alcohol abuse may also result in the growth of an alcohol use disorder or AUD, sometimes called "alcoholism" or "alcohol addiction.”

This condition is a problematic, compulsive pattern of alcohol use that perseveres despite adverse effects on a person’s job, health, and even personal relationships.

For a psychological health expert to diagnose someone with alcohol addiction, that individual must comply with at least two of the following within twelve months:

  • experiencing alcohol cravings
  • spending too much time trying to get alcohol
  • drinking while at work
  • continuing drinking despite relationship and familial issues caused by alcohol consumption
  • unable to fulfil commitments at home, school, or work because of alcohol drinking
  • sacrificing special events to drink with friends
  • experiencing withdrawal alcohol symptoms, if trying to stop drinking

When it comes to pregnant women cases, chronic alcohol exposure in babies and children may stunt brain development.

Fetal alcohol exposure can cause a multifaceted group of indicators known as fetal alcohol syndrome.

According to the WebMD experts, the concept “drinking kills brain cells” is a myth. Instead, alcohol destroys the brain in other ways.

For example, by destroying the end of neurons. This condition can make it tricky for those neurons to transmit significant nerve signals.

Excessive drinking of alcohol also destroys the brain by heightening the risk of head injuries, strokes, and accidents.

Apart from causing brain shrinkage and sparking the damaged brain cells, alcoholism can also cause deficiencies that destroy brain cells differently.

According to National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcoholism can lead to Vitamin B1 deficiency, popularly known as thiamine.

This type of vitamin is needed for optimal brain wellness. When thiamine is absent, it can cause a certain type of brain disease.

This disease is called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, causing short-term symptoms to occur.

The Alzheimer’s Association also noted that researchers are not certain why alcohol abuse causes a thiamine deficiency. Still, they claimed that this condition is caused by alcohol’s impact on the liver, stomach, and other organs.

Alcoholic Brain Damage Syndrome

Persons who regularly drink much more than the suggested limit of alcohol can likely injure their brains.

It causes their ability to think clearly and memory to get worse as time passes by.

Others experience alcohol-related brain damage syndrome, causing them to struggle with their daily routine.

Alcoholic brain damage syndrome includes distinct symptoms, and it is essential to take note of these indicators.

Here are some of the common symptoms related to memory and cognitive problems due to excessive drinking of alcohol:

Memory Loss

A person is having trouble remembering directions to familiar places or unable to recall appointments. They also often forget to recall what they should be doing to have just done.

Trouble with Familiar Tasks

Persons experiencing alcoholic brain damage syndrome may struggle with their daily life activity.  For instance, they find it hard to use their phones or are confused about preparing a meal and the like.

Trouble with Processing Information

They cannot recall dates, appointments, and times they have recently been given. Or worse, they forget to remember people they have talked to or meet.

Irritability and Depression

This can also include a lack of interest in events or people and lack of motivation or spontaneity.

Loss of Inhibition and Poor Judgement

People with alcoholic brain damage syndrome may be too trusting of strangers. They also respond inaptly, like removing their clothes while in public places.

Trouble with Language

They may have issues with language as they don’t remember the names of their friends. They also forget some words or even can’t remember the end of a sentence.

Unpredictable Behaviour

They may have quick mood swings and become violent or aggressive. In most cases, people having alcoholic brain damage syndrome do not know about how they are behaving.

Trouble with Concentrating

It can be challenging for people with alcoholic brain damage syndrome to concentrate on one thing in just a few minutes. As a result, they find it hard to accomplish their daily tasks.

Above all, people with alcoholic brain damage syndrome may have trouble weighing their options or making the right decisions.

They may also not see any practical reasons to think about changing their drinking habit.

Good news because all of the symptoms related to alcoholic brain damage syndrome have a solution!

Can Alcoholic Brain Damage Be Reversed?

Alcohol-related brain damage can be cured.

However, symptoms like memory recall problems can be reversed if detected early.

The researchers of Queensland University of Technology (QUT) have identified a medicine that could support our brains reboot and reverse the destroyed impacts of excessive alcohol drinking.

Their studies in mice show that after two consecutive weeks of medication with the drug “tandospirone,” it reversed its effects.

The findings include the following:

  • The drug reversed the deficiency in brain neurogenesis induced by excessive alcohol drinking
  • The drug acts selectively on a serotonin receptor
  • The drug was proven effective in treating anxiety-like behaviours relative to alcohol withdrawal

According to Professor Selena Bartlett, this drug is the latest discovery that can reverse neurogenesis deficits.  

She also noted that they are continuously searching for a new medical scheme for alcohol addiction and abuse, often characterized by heavy alcohol consumption, depression, anxiety, and the like.

For people with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, regular therapy accompanied by thiamine can be an ideal option.

When the therapy is given in an early stage of treatment, people can make a rapid and remarkable recovery.

Eventually, they will come back to their normal state. If the therapy is given too late, it will become less beneficial.

Some people can be treated from more moderate levels of alcohol-caused damage by embracing sobriety.

The researchers from Scientific American recommended that refraining from alcohol can allow the brain to be plump.

It may also cause the brain to return to the original volume levels, and because of this, connections between the different regions of the brain can be restored.

However, some people don’t feel this type of smooth healing, and they often see only some brain parts that return to their pre-drinking size.

At present, several researchers keep searching for distinct ways to help through discovering advanced therapy procedures or healing processes.

Say, for instance, Science Daily recommends that medical researchers have produced a new drug that could assist the brain to restore the damage done by excessive alcohol drinking.

However, the studies have only been performed via experiments on mice and not on actual persons suffering from the said condition.  

Medication for alcohol-related brain syndrome consists of supplementing the person with thiamine.

This treatment is often not given by mouth as it will not absorb instantly enough to be effective.

To guarantee that thiamine is absorbed instantly, it is suggested to inject this into the veins or muscles.

Supplementation of thiamine continues for a couple of days while the persons are stabilized by medical personnel.

Unluckily, there is no treatment-all for extreme bodily damaged caused by a thiamine deficit.

The development of alcohol-related damage can be slowed down or halted.

The most and proven effective prevention is maintaining a healthy lifestyle and diet and stopping drinking alcohol.

However, there is no known treatment for patients whose alcohol-related brain damage is not connected to thiamine deficit.

The main medication is to stop drinking alcohol and halt the development of brain damage.

Alcohol-related brain damages refer to the extreme impact of excessive alcohol drinking.

Alcohol addiction or abuse can have poisonous effects on both the spinal cord and the brain, including a loss of living brain cells and a loss of white matter tissue.

Alcoholism usually impacts higher-level mental abilities, the brain’s ability to coordinate and control muscle movement, and behavioural control.

Excessive alcohol consumption causes acute changes to three major chemical procedures of the brain, namely: GABA, dopamine, and glutamate.

GABA, also known as Gamma-aminobutyric Acid, is the major inhibitory neurotransmitter within the nervous system. It functions by calming us down and reducing brain energy.

As a sedative, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that boosts the GABA effects. Dopamine is also a brain neurotransmitter as it acts as the pleasure centre of the brain.

Alcohol works by stimulating the general release of dopamine, making alcohol very addictive.

Glutamate, on the other hand, is an acid that functions as a neurotransmitter. It keeps us alert and awake. Alcohol lessens the effect of glutamate.

Addiction is a curable yet chronic health condition accompanied by compulsive drinking of alcohol despite experiencing adverse effects. Addiction also affects countless people on distinct levels.

The development of addiction may be accompanied by chemical or physical changes in the brain, which may strengthen the compulsive nature of the ailment.

If left untreated, this condition may become devastating to a person’s lifestyle and overall health state.

Therefore, drug abuse medication must address the factors that influence addiction and its major effects.

Most substance abuse medication schemes have the following principles:

  • There is no such thing as “one-size-fits-all” medication. It means that recovery or treatment procedure varies from one person to another.
  • The proper medication should address the substance use and its additional needs like mental, social, and medical health issues.
  • Medical procedures should constantly be reviewed and altered, if needed, throughout the rehabilitation procedures.
  • Behavioural therapeutic schemes or counselling constitute the essential elements of medication.
  • For some disorders in substance use, treatments will be the main component of medication together with behavioural therapies.
  • Medical detoxification is the first step in the process of alcohol rehabilitation.

Just like other chronic problems, there is no fast and simple cure for addiction.

Successful substance abuse medication is comprehensive and multi-layered.

Effective treatment is composed of medication, behavioural counselling, private and group therapy, substance abuse education, and long-term monitoring to avert relapse.


Alcohol addiction or abuse can be cured with the help of multiple medical treatment procedures, including rehabilitation.

However, the treatment results are also influenced by the strength of the relationship between the medical providers and their patients, the extent and nature of the patients' condition, and the proper treatment in addressing those health problems.

The ultimate goal of rehab is to help patients return to productive functioning in the workplace, family, and community following effective completion of medication.

Most individuals who complete medication can stop drinking alcohol and boost their psychological, social, and occupational functioning.

With more than a million people struggling with alcohol addiction and abuse, hundreds of them seek daily treatment to overcome it.

There are also various options for recovery, and most patients found these treatments effective and reliable. It is just a matter of finding the right rehab centre in the community.

Recovery from alcoholism is highly possible. Our rehab centres in Scotland and Gloucester are always ready to help you.

Whether you or someone you know has the different signs of alcohol abuse or addiction, the best option is through contacting a trusted rehab centre.

Take the best step toward recovery.

Contact us now for a free consultation!

Last Updated: June 10, 2021

About the author

Peter Szczepanski

Peter has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. Peter also co-authored the new 6th edition of Drugs In Use by Linda Dodds, writing Chapter 15 on Alcohol Related Liver Disease. Find Peter on Respiratory Academy, Aston University graduates, University of Birmingham, Q, Pharmaceutical Journal, the Dudley Pharmaceutical Committee, Dudley Council, Twitter, and LinkedIn.