Alcohol – it’s not as harmless as it seems, but you wouldn’t know that with the oversaturation of advertising and ease of accessibility, would you? No matter where you turn, getting away from its grip is hard. While all drugs present challenges when getting sober, alcohol is among the most challenging for people addicted to it because its presence always makes itself felt.
In some states, it’s sold in large pharmacies, grocery stores, and even at your local shops. Because of its legality, many of us forget how dangerous it is, and the harmful use of alcohol is a factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions. Even moderate use can have detrimental effects. If you’ve been drinking, you might wonder – how can someone reverse the effects of alcohol abuse? We’ll get into that below.
Alcohol Use Statistics
Alcohol is a psychoactive substance with addictive properties that’s been widely used and accepted by various cultures globally. The harmful use of alcohol leads to disease and significant social and economic consequences. The harmful use of the substance can also affect others, such as family members, friends, and strangers. Alcohol consumption is associated with the risk of significant health problems, including behavioral and mental disorders, addiction, liver cirrhosis, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases. A staggering three million deaths result from alcohol misuse each year globally. A staggering 13.5 percent of deaths occur in those aged 20 to 39.
Other than being easy to access, alcohol is also socially accepted. In the United States, turning 21 and “blacking out” is a right of passage. It’s encouraged in most social circles. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), a staggering 85.6 percent of people aged 18 and older drank at some point in their life. Even worse, 25.8 percent in the same age group reported binge drinking in the previous month, which can cause serious damage. A staggering 14.5 million people over the age of 12 have an alcohol use disorder (AUD) in the United States, highlighting the vast amount of those who could sustain severe damage from drinking.
Statistically speaking, it’s likely you’ve consumed alcohol. However, if you’ve been drinking alcohol for a prolonged period, you’ve likely sustained at least some damage to your body and might be wondering – is it reversible?
Your Brain and Alcohol Abuse: Is the Damage Reversible?
Scientists have conducted thorough research on how alcohol abuse affects the brain, from a cellular level to the effects on neural networks. Prolonged abuse of alcohol is associated with the following:
- Damage to neurons in each area of your brain
- Altered activity of your brain’s neural pathways
- Inhibited functioning of each brain mechanism
- Neurological diseases and disorders like brain cancer, dementia, stroke, and seizures
Fortunately, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found those who abuse the substance and abstain for several months to a year can experience partial correction of these structural changes, which is a positive outcome. However, these effects become far more pronounced the longer an individual remains sober. While the most noticeable effects occur within the first year, they will peak once a person has maintained five to seven years of sobriety.
How much physiological damage and functional impairment one sustains due to alcohol abuse depends on the following factors:
- How long you abused alcohol, and how much was consumed in each sitting
- If they used other drugs in conjunction with alcohol
- Genetics and family history
- Dietary habits, the amount of exercise the person gets, and co-occurring conditions
One condition associated with excessive alcohol consumption is Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome when a person experiences problems with nystagmus, walking, and cognitive issues like dense amnesia and severe confusion. It’s not directly related to alcohol use but is caused by a lack of proper nutrition stemming from those who neglect their diet because of alcohol.
Your Heart and Alcohol Abuse: Is the Damage Reversible?
Your heart takes a serious beating due to alcohol abuse. The American Heart Association (AHA) lists various cardiovascular issues that stem from misuse and abuse. There are conflicting reports about what’s considered a “safe” amount of alcohol to improve cardiovascular health, but the AHA suggests you shouldn’t start drinking for its benefits. You shouldn’t drink at all if you have pre-existing heart conditions. Alcohol abuse is associated with the following heart problems:
- Alcoholic cardiomyopathy
- High cholesterol levels
- Heart attack or sudden cardiac death
Similar factors associated with recovery of brain damage caused by alcohol abuse apply to recovery from heart issues when someone abstains from alcohol. Unfortunately, the full extent of damage caused by abuse to the heart is not fully resolved. Any reversal of damage occurs rapidly in the first few months and years of abstinence and slows after that. You must also make lifestyle changes, such as changing your diet, exercising, rest habits, and stress management, to unlock the full potential of recovery.
Your Liver and Alcohol Abuse: Is the Damage Reversible?
Liver damage is the most common side effect of alcohol abuse. It’s a major organ responsible for eliminating waste and other toxic substances from our bodies. When you drink too much alcohol, your liver metabolizes the alcohol to remove the toxin from your system. Alcohol is metabolized before other substances, meaning the liver must work harder to perform its functions, especially when someone drinks a substantial amount of alcohol. When it becomes overworked, it loses efficiency and becomes damaged, leading to scar tissue and fatty deposits on the organ. If enough scar tissue develops, you’re in serious danger.
Fortunately, most damage is reversible if you stop soon enough. If a condition called cirrhosis occurs, which is when so much scar tissue develops that the liver cannot work properly, it’s not reversible, and you might need an organ transplant. Mild liver damage is not serious enough to cause issues and will heal on its own with abstinence, but cirrhosis can be a death sentence.
Reversing the Effects of Alcohol Abuse: Here’s How
Alcohol is dangerous – there’s no other way to put it. While a drink or two here or there won’t cause problems, the more you drink, the more damage your body will sustain. Fortunately, most alcohol abuse can be reversed, but there are steps to take to achieve your goals. The first of these steps is abstinence.
If you’ve proven you can’t have a glass of wine with dinner because it turns into a bottle or three, it’s time to stop. If you need additional help reaching your goal, you must seek professional addiction treatment. Alcohol abuse can lead to severe withdrawals, which can be fatal without assistance, and checking into medical detox can prevent any more damage from occurring. So, what are some other means of reversing the effects of alcohol abuse?
- Overhauling your diet and consuming healthy, nutritious foods that heal your body and soul
- Begin a consistent exercise regimen – working out one day a week is better than not working out at all, but if you can do cardio, weight lifting, swimming, or even going on a walk each day, you’ll quickly notice its benefits for your body and reverse the damage sustained from drinking.
- Get up and move! Increasing social activities, such as going to the park, hanging out with friends, going to the mall, or picking up a new hobby, can keep your mind and body occupied, which also helps you not think about drinking. Remember, idle hands are the devil’s workshop, and removing yourself from isolation is vital for sobriety and getting healthy.
- In some cases, people drink as a means of self-medicating because of depression or anxiety. Some people need to take medication to correct an imbalance in their brain – and that’s OK. If medication keeps you sober and healthy, it should be embraced. Whether it’s medication or anxiety or an antidepressant, it can help you get on the fast track to healing your body from alcohol abuse.
- Lastly, you might need therapy to help you manage your newly founded sobriety. It’s certainly an adjustment, especially if so much of your life revolves around drinking. Fortunately, speaking to a professional can help you be at peace with your decision.
All these suggestions with professional addiction treatment can help you overcome the years of damage you’ve endured from drinking. The time it takes to reverse the damage will vary from person to person, but the only way this process can begin is by stopping today.