After years, months, or weeks of heavy drinking, you may be wondering if you’ll ever be able to reverse all the damage you’ve inflicted on your body. It’s no secret that alcohol and drug abuse can cause serious damage to several different organs and bodily functions, but what role does alcohol detox play in reversing that damage? And can it be fully reversed?
Although there’s no simple way to answer those questions, in this blog we’ll explore some trusted scientific research and evidence to determine what can be done to repair and heal your body from the harmful properties of alcohol.
Understanding Alcohol’s Damaging Effects on the Body
Alcohol’s effects on your body are complex. Just as smoking and other substances affect every person differently, alcohol does too. Genetic factors, physical health, and the amount of alcohol you consume can all play a role in how your body reacts. Still, alcohol’s damaging effects on the various parts of the human body are powerful and widespread.
The Brain – Alcohol abuse disrupts the communication of neurotransmitters in the brain. These chemicals regulate many important things like thinking, breathing, moving, and emotions. The effects of alcohol typically damage three main areas of the brain: the cerebellum, the limbic system, and the cerebral cortex. Damage to these areas can inhibit memory, coordination, emotional responses, problem-solving, and learning.
Additionally, long-term heavy drinking can also reduce the size of brain cells. Over time, the brain mass may shrink and the inner cavity of the brain may grow bigger. This results in impairment of temperature regulation, sleep mood, learning, memory, and motor coordination.1
The heart – Long-term heavy drinking weakens the heart muscle which decreases its ability to pump blood. This can cause damage to organs and tissues and may eventually even lead to heart failure. Binge drinking and long-term heavy drinking can also cause irregular heartbeat, stroke, high blood pressure, and heart failure.3
The liver – Heavy drinking over a long period of time can cause liver disease. As the liver breaks down the alcohol that is ingested, it releases harmful toxins that damage its cells, causing inflammation. Heavy drinking can also cause fat to build up in the liver (fatty liver), which can cause a condition called steatosis. This is the earliest stage of alcoholic liver disease. Scar tissue may also begin to build up in the liver which inhibits its ability to rid the body of harmful substances and store nutrients and energy. This condition is called cirrhosis and is most commonly caused by alcohol abuse.4
The pancreas – Excessive drinking increases a person’s risk of developing problems with the pancreas, a vital organ that helps digest and metabolize food. Alcohol damages the pancreatic cells and causes inflammation, otherwise known as pancreatitis, which prevents the pancreas from working properly. This condition may also increase a person’s risk of developing pancreatic cancer.5
Immune system – Chronic, heavy drinking reduces the body’s ability to fight off disease and destroy cancerous cells. Even binge drinking on one single occasion can severely reduce the functioning of the immune system. This leaves individuals more prone to infection, diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis, and also increases a person’s susceptibility to HIV.1
Psychological effects – Alcohol abuse has serious effects on mental health and can worsen existing conditions such as depression or create new issues like anxiety, violent behavior, or memory loss.6
Social effects – Excessive alcohol use has also been associated with social issues involving a person’s career, education, and interpersonal relationships. Individuals may lose their jobs, get a divorce, or damage other relationships beyond repair as a result of heavy drinking.
Reversing the Harmful Effects of Alcohol
Even after all this damage has been done, research shows that drug detox and continued addiction rehabilitation may help to reverse some of the harmful effects of alcohol on the body.
In terms of brain damage, one study found that after just one day of alcohol abstinence, cerebrospinal fluid, which protects the brain inside the skull, had increased. Additionally, after two weeks of abstinence, the gray matter inside the brain, which plays an important role in sensory perception, muscle control, memory, emotions, self-control, and speech, had significantly recovered in several different brain regions.7
The findings of this study suggest that the brain does have the ability to begin recovering from damage caused by alcohol within just a few days of abstinence and alcohol detox, but the rate and onset of the recovery will vary based on the region of the brain and the person.
Although other studies have found that some alcohol damage to the brain is permanent, especially damage that takes place in the area of the brain that regulates long-term memory and spatial navigation, years of abstinence can provide a great deal of healing and restoration in the brain. Positive results were mostly found in the frontocerebellar circuitry, the part of the brain that regulates problem-solving, decision-making, and reasoning.8
Fatty liver or steatosis occurs in more than 90 percent of people who drink too much alcohol and in some cases, the damage may be reversed.9 Liver damage caused in the early stages of alcohol-related liver disease may also be reversed with regular abstinence.10 Unfortunately, regardless of ongoing abstinence, alcoholic cirrhosis cannot be reversed and may cause liver failure.
The best way to reduce and prevent any additional damage caused by excessive alcohol abuse is to maintain long-term abstinence. A detox center such as Hill Country Detox can help you achieve a stable and sober state with an individualized medically assisted detox program. During withdrawal, we will treat any uncomfortable physical symptoms to ensure that you can make it through even the most uncomfortable part of the process.
In completing alcohol detox, you are already well on your way to repairing and healing your body from alcohol damage. To continue the physical, mental, and psychological healing process after detox, long-term drug and alcohol rehab is the most effective way to achieve lasting change.
If you’d like to begin your new life free from alcohol addiction, please contact Hill Country Detox today. We have immediate openings and are ready to begin the enrollment process as soon as you’re ready.