You know that drinking alcohol can intoxicate you. That’s because alcohol has immediate effects on your brain and central nervous system. But you may not be familiar with what happens to your brain when you stop drinking. Whether it’s via a morning-after hangover or withdrawal from heavy use, alcohol affects the body in different ways. However, it also damages the brain. Quitting initiates the healing process and can even restore normal brain function.
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Neurotransmitter Levels Rebalance
Dopamine and serotonin are neurotransmitters that regulate several bodily functions, including motivation, mood, sleep and digestion. Alcohol interferes with both of these neurotransmitters.
Alcohol and Dopamine
When you drink, alcohol activates the dopaminergic pathway that’s part of the brain’s reward system. In fact, the release of dopamine from alcohol use may be partially responsible for the impetus to drink more. Dopamine teaches you to repeat pleasurable activities to elicit additional dopamine “hits.”
As alcohol floods the brain with dopamine, the body responds by reducing the number of dopamine receptors. When you stop drinking, you may feel particularly sad or low because your body doesn’t have the receptors that are necessary to respond to your natural dopamine levels.
After you stop drinking, however, dopaminergic transmission improves. This process begins immediately, and dopaminergic transmission can reach healthy levels within just four weeks of abstinence.
However, it can take longer than that for the dopaminergic system to rebalance completely. At first, you may be unmotivated to seek out activities that make you feel good. You may also have trouble experiencing enjoyment from activities that were pleasurable before. Rewiring your brain takes time, but addiction treatment helps you learn how to cope with these challenges and feel fulfilled by life again.
Alcohol and Serotonin
Serotonin is responsible for improving happiness and keeping you feeling at ease. Like dopamine, serotonin is partially responsible for the rewarding and euphoric effects of alcohol.
A single drinking session can elevate your serotonin levels. However, your body is always trying to maintain homeostasis. It attempts to balance itself out in the face of chronic alcohol use. Over time, drinking alcohol lowers your serotonin levels to prevent them from becoming elevated.
When you stop drinking, your serotonin levels are lower than normal. This can lead to depression and feelings of hopelessness. In fact, the feeling of serotonin efficiency is responsible for that anxious and depressed feeling that accompanies a hangover.
Eventually, however, your body regains balance. Your serotonin levels improve, and your neurotransmitters begin to operate normally, helping you achieve a healthy, stable recovery.
The Frontal Lobe Regenerates
One of the reasons that you lose motor function and experience inhibition when you drink alcohol is that the substance damages your frontal lobe. People who struggle with alcohol use disorder often feel mentally foggy or have problems with memory and concentration.
Heavy drinking tends to shrink the frontal lobe of the brain. The frontal lobe also shrinks with age, which is why executive function issues become more pronounced in older people with alcohol abuse issues.
But this type of brain damage can be reversed. Brain volume increases in the year after you quit using alcohol.
Learning and Memory Improve
Have you ever blacked out from drinking? Acute alcohol intoxication causes short-term memory deficits. Excessive alcohol consumption affects the hippocampus, making it difficult to transform short-term memories into long-term ones.
It also makes memories harder to recall. Heavy, regular drinking impairs the hippocampus so that it becomes tougher to record incoming information as memories. People who drink frequently and excessively are more likely to have damage in their hippocampus than those who don’t. Impairments in the hippocampus are also linked to severe withdrawal symptoms.
When you quit drinking, your hippocampus begins to repair itself within two weeks. Moreover, the treatment methods that you go through create new behavioral and thinking patterns.
Because you are no longer under the influence of alcohol, your neurotransmitters become more efficient at sending messages throughout your brain and body. You can better store and retain the new information, allowing your brain to rewire in ways that promote and encourage healthy behavior.
If My Brain Is Healing, Why Do I Still Feel Bad?
Brain changes from quitting drinking don’t happen overnight. If you quit cold turkey after chronic alcohol use, your body is suddenly deprived of the chemical that it had become accustomed to. All of the brain adaptations that occurred to accommodate your alcohol use remain, and they slowly go back to normal.
Therefore, you may not feel like yourself when you begin detox. Circuits in your amygdala go into overdrive, leading to heightened emotional states. You may feel depressed, irritable, dysphoric and miserable. If you used to use alcohol to numb intense emotions, relieve anxiety or boost your mood, you’ll need to find new ways to achieve those outcomes.
That’s why it’s so important to seek professional support as you navigate recovery. At a comprehensive addiction treatment center, you’ll be in the care of providers that understand what’s going on. You’ll learn skills for coping with these intense emotions as your brain chemicals regulate themselves.
At Allure Detox, we do more than simply help you withdraw from alcohol safety. We incorporate approaches that encourage you to build a solid foundation for recovery. Our holistic therapies address your mind, emotions, body and spirit to help you create a fulfilling life of sobriety.
Contact us if you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol abuse and needs support. Together, we can maximize the positive brain changes that will set you up for a lasting recovery.