Any damage done to your brain is not permanent, and these things will help get it back to normal.
“I have better use for my brain than to poison it with alcohol. To put alcohol in the human brain is like putting sand in the bearings of an engine.” — Thomas Edison
AsI started to do research on drinking and all the damaging effects it can have on one’s life, the one thing that absolutely terrified me was the damage it can do to the brain.
As someone who has always been focused on trying to get the most out of myself mentally, when I learned that excessive alcohol use can damage one’s ability to think and learn in the future, I was afraid that I had put myself in a situation from which I would not be able to recover.
As I began to do more research, however, I recognized that this was just not the case and that any damage that I may have done could be reversed with a few consistent activities to put me back in the driver’s seat of taking control of its development.
This is probably the one that most people will think has the greatest effect, and that would be correct.
The way alcohol affects the brain is based on something called “shrinkage” in which as the brain is exposed to the artificial dopamine spike created by alcohol’s use and begins to go from liking to craving, we also see a subsequent decrease in the number of regions of the brain that are associated with functionality and logical thinking.
These areas of the brain, located in the cerebral cortex, control many of the brain’s complex mental functions. You would know these two areas as the frontal lobe, associated with higher mental skills and complex decision-making, and the cerebellum, which helps coordinate muscle movements and control.
The communication between the rest of the brain and these two parts of it are highly important to your ability to learn and make decisions. What appears to happen with excessive alcohol use is that the body almost decides that it no longers needs to use these complex functions because it has become so consumed with acquiring the artificial dopamine spikes from alcohol.
This becomes its sole purpose and, therefore, the more complex use of these functions is not seen as important anymore and is not used as often. As with anything, if you don’t use it, you lose it, so we then see a decrease in the size of this part of our brain.
On the flip side, however, just as when we begin to use different muscles that we may have left dormant for some time, when we stop ingesting alcohol and allow our brain to begin to use these parts again, they have the ability to grow back as strong, if not stronger, than before.
This does take time, however, and does not happen overnight.
From research conducted by performing MRI’s on individuals who were excessive drinkers who had been alcohol-free for one week, one month, and seven and a half months, the scientists discovered a significant increase in the brain’s white and gray matter with time, demonstrating repaired growth in the brain’s size and ability to execute functions appropriately.
It has already been proven that exercise is very helpful as it relates to overall brain health, while excessive alcohol use is known to tremendously damage your brain’s health.
With that being said, it would then lead one to believe that exercise could be used as an element to help repair any damage caused by alcohol, and that would be correct.
There are two distinct ways this takes place.
The first is related to how your body naturally prevents brain atrophy with the benefits of exercise counterbalancing the negative effects of alcohol.
One way it does this is by keeping the blood flowing to help enhance your memory.
When you exercise, it stimulates the release of a chemical in the brain that enhances your learning and can also affect your overall mood. This chemical is known as Irisin, and is a hormone generated by muscle tissue that is carried around the body in the bloodstream.
Due to the increase in blood flow from oxygen when you are exercising, this increases how much this is circulated throughout your body. It has been identified that individuals with Alzheimer’s had lower levels of Irisin as opposed to healthy individuals.
Also, in a study conducted with mice, it was discovered that reducing irisin decreased the ability of the mice to learn quickly and effectively while restoring it would reverse these effects.
Now, in connection to the direct effect that exercise can have on helping restore your memory because of alcohol’s effects, exercise has been associated directly with increasing the size of your hippocampus.
As noted in a previous article, a decreasing of your hippocampus, the part of your brain associated with learning and memory, is one of the main ways that alcohol inhibits our mental capacity from binge drinking.
In another study conducted with mice, scientists measured the amount the hippocampus shrank as a result of different binges given to each group and then compared the restoration of each group’s hippocampus with time only versus with time and exercise.
What they found was that those who were in the time and exercise group had the largest restoration back to their original baseline as opposed to the other two groups.
The last way to combat this is related to the final element of The MEDS — the AINYF holistic approach to quitting drinking. It is Success Seeking, which is working hard to pursue some mentally stimulating challenge that one could not do with alcohol encumbering one’s hippocampus’s ability to learn.
Similar to exercise, this is something that your brain needs regardless of alcohol’s effect on it, but it is particularly helpful as it relates to counteracting the negative effects that too much drinking can have on the brain.
Mental stimulation, which involves challenging the brain with various types of new challenges, has been proven to slow down cognitive decline as opposed to doing nothing at all.
What this means is that individuals should consistently work to teach themselves new things so their neural plasticity stays lithe and prevents against future neurological cell loss.
Doing things such as learning a new language, picking up a new hobby, or even doing various different mental games from day to day can help.
As outlined in this study, as compared to using time only, coupling time with mental stimulating exercises had the greatest effect on improving the cognitive recovery of patients suffering from alcohol use disorder.
Similar to how your body will make some type of recovery without physical excercise, pushing your brain to have some type of mental stimulation that forces it to work harder than usual will greatly increase your chances of getting back to baseline, as it relates to your cognitive recovery.
And even though I’m sure many of us would agree that it would’ve been nice to have never started drinking in the first place so there wouldn’t even be a need for mental recovery, isn’t it good to know that there is a chance we can be as cognitively sharp as we used to be or even more so if we’re just willing to put in the work?