Mental health issues are common among people who suffer from alcohol abuse and addiction. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about 50% of people with an addiction like alcohol use disorder will also experience a mental illness at some point in their lives, and vice versa.
Many people who are ready to quit drinking have concerns that the effects of alcohol are permanent, and their mental health status may not improve after becoming sober. However, it’s vital to know that quitting can improve your mental health, especially if you receive professional treatment at an alcohol rehab center.
Continue reading to learn more about the effects of alcohol consumption on the brain and what you can do to address the short-term and long-term effects of alcohol addiction.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain?
Alcohol produces these effects due to how it interacts with certain brain chemicals that control the central nervous system. These same brain chemicals also play a role in your mood and mental health. That is why chronic use increases the risk of mental health disorders.
Some of the long-term effects on the brain include:
- Blurred vision
- Confused thoughts
- Impaired judgment and decision making
- Impulsive behavior
- Memory blackouts
- Poor concentration and memory
- Slurred speech
Alcohol produces these effects due to the way it interacts with certain brain chemicals that control the central nervous system. These same brain chemicals also play a role in your mood and mental health. This is why chronic use of alcohol increases the risk of mental health disorders.
Some of the long-term effects of alcohol on the brain include:
- Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD)
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Bipolar disorder
- Brain shrinkage
- Cognitive impairment, including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
- Depression or major depressive disorder
- Loss of brain cells and inability to grow new ones
- Panic disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Social phobia
- Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS)
More About ASPD
ASPD is also known as sociopathy. People with this mental health condition usually exhibit behavior that is disrespectful, manipulative, and reckless. These individuals tend to lack empathy for others, and they experience and show no remorse for hurtful actions.
According to the NIH, people with ASPD and alcohol use disorder are more prone to having other drug use disorders, such as opioid use disorder or cocaine use disorder. ASPD is highly common among those with alcohol addiction; alcohol-dependent men are 4 to 8 times more likely to develop this condition, while alcohol-dependent women are 12 to 17 times more likely to develop it.
More About WKS
WKS is a brain disorder caused mainly by a deficiency in thiamine (vitamin B1). Chronic alcohol use can damage the stomach lining to cause inflammation and prevent the absorption of essential vitamins and minerals, including thiamine. Over time, thiamine deficiency increases the risk of WKS, which produces symptoms including a confused mental state, vision problems, and loss of muscle coordination that makes it difficult to walk.
The NIH reports that up to 80% of people with alcohol use disorder suffer from thiamine deficiency that puts them at risk for WKS. Fortunately, people who seek treatment for alcohol addiction at an alcohol rehab center are provided with thiamine supplements to prevent further cognitive impairment. After a period of sobriety, the risk of developing WKS gradually decreases.
How Can I Tell if Heavy Drinking Is Affecting My Mental Health?
Sometimes, it can be difficult to determine whether your drinking habits affect your mental health because these changes usually come on gradually over some time. But, generally, if you notice that you started to experience symptoms of a mental health issue after increasing your alcohol intake or drinking more frequently, it’s possible alcohol may be the root cause.
The NIH says all substance use disorders—including alcohol use disorder—are characterized by a specific set of criteria. Some of these criteria include changes in mental health status due to the side effects of drugs and alcohol.
Here are signs your mental health may be affected by heavy drinking:
- You experience strong cravings or urges to use alcohol. These cravings usually get driven by changes in brain chemistry caused by chronic alcohol use.
- You keep drinking even though it leads to fights or altercations between you and your friends, partner, or relatives. Fights that occur while you’re drinking often result in changes in mood and personality due to intoxication.
- You keep drinking even when it continuously leads to situations in which it is dangerous. For example, you continue drinking at a bar an hour away from home despite knowing you have to drive home while intoxicated.
- You continue to keep drinking despite knowing it is causing or worsening a psychological or physical health problem. For example, you feel depressed all the time and think your depression gets caused by alcohol use, but you keep drinking anyway.
- You experience mental health symptoms, including anxiety, depression, nervousness, agitation, mood swings, and nightmares if you go several hours without drinking alcohol. These are all alcohol withdrawal symptoms that can begin as early as eight hours after the last drink if you suffer from alcohol addiction.
Will My Mental Health Improve After I Quit Drinking?
The good news is that your mental health will improve after you quit drinking. However, it may take several months or even years for you to experience significant improvements based on the severity of dependence and addiction. The longer you abstain from alcohol, the better your improvements in mental health will be.
In a recent study published in the Canadian Medication Association Journal, researchers looked at the effects of alcohol abstinence on mental health among heavy drinkers, nondrinkers, and former heavy drinkers who recently stopped drinking. They found that the group of former heavy drinkers who stopped drinking experienced the most positive changes in their mental health status compared to people in all other groups. Positive changes took place over four years.
In another study published in 2012 in the journal Alcohol, researchers learned that abstaining from alcohol for at least one year led to significant improvements in cognitive function among heavy drinkers. However, those who abstained from alcohol for longer periods achieved the most noticeable improvements in cognitive function.
What Are the Physical Benefits of Quitting Alcohol?
Quitting alcohol also improves your physical health. According to the NIH, alcohol abuse increases the risk of heart problems, liver diseases, pancreatitis, and several cancers, including the colon, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and breasts. It also weakens your immune system, making you more vulnerable to illness and disease.
When you stop drinking, you’ll feel less tired and more energetic. Your body will gradually start repairing itself and absorbing more nutrients, especially if you include lots of fruits, vegetables, poultry, fish, and other fresh, nutritious foods in your diet. You’ll become sick less often and feel great enough to want to participate in physical activities, such as going to the gym, hiking, and swimming.
Your skin will start to look brighter and younger. Given how alcohol causes dehydration and premature signs of aging, including fine lines and wrinkles, your skin will begin looking brighter and younger. You’ll also start to sleep better thanks to fewer sleep disturbances and nightmares, and you will lose excess weight that may have come about by certain types of alcohol and poor nutrition.
Many alcohol rehab centers will provide you with daily meals and nutrition counseling and help you establish a fitness routine to improve your physical health after a long period of alcohol use. These services get included in many residential rehab programs.
What Are the Best Treatments for Alcohol Abuse?
Alcohol rehab centers offer a large variety of safe and effective treatments for alcohol abuse and addiction. All rehab programs are customized for each patient based on the unique circumstances behind their addiction. Patients learn how to live an enjoyable, fulfilling life without alcohol, along with skills that help them stay sober and succeed in their lives.
Alcohol detox is always the first stage of treatment and helps you recover from physical alcohol dependence. This treatment addresses the physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, which usually last between two and ten days. Medications help reduce your symptoms and help you feel as comfortable as possible for the duration of withdrawal.
Alcohol detox usually takes place in a residential or hospital-like environment where you can be closely monitored by nurses and doctors as you go through withdrawal. This treatment reduces the risk of potential complications such as dehydration and seizures. After alcohol detox, you’ll be physically and mentally ready to transition into an alcohol rehab program to receive behavioral therapy.
Behavioral therapy helps you recover from psychological addiction to alcohol. This stage of treatment includes various therapies that all focus on helping you modify harmful behaviors and achieve a healthier, sober lifestyle. Each patient receives a different set of therapies based on the root causes of their addiction.
Dual diagnosis therapy is a common behavioral therapy used in alcohol rehab, as it helps people manage co-occurring mental health disorders such as depression, panic disorder, and ASPD. Therapy sessions include both one-on-one and group sessions. While in alcohol rehab, you’ll also have the opportunity to identify your triggers and learn skills that help you manage or avoid those triggers so that you don’t drink.
After your alcohol rehab program has ended, the staff at your treatment center will recommend attending regular support group sessions and alumni meetings that keep you connected to the recovery community.
Recovering From Alcohol Addiction With Haven Detox
Haven Detox offers alcohol detox and residential rehab programs in its facilities located in Worcester, Massachusetts, and West Palm Beach, Florida. Contact us today at (561) 220-3647 to learn more about our many customizable addiction treatment programs. Our goal is to help you experience a safe, long-term recovery from alcohol abuse and addiction.