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Long-term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

Alcohol Abuse and Its Impact on Overall Health

Alcohol is one of the most used drugs in America, as it is a legal and socially acceptable substance to abuse. Many people do not realize the danger they are putting themselves in when they drink, especially if drinking becomes a habit and the body begins to develop a tolerance. It is an addictive substance that can cause serious issues, not only with the liver but the rest of the body as well. Long-term effects of alcohol on the brain can have a serious impact on your quality of life and your health and can result in disease, injury, and even death if untreated.

Contact The Detox Center of Los Angeles today at (888) 346-4350 to learn how to access our addiction treatment programs.

The short-term health risks of alcohol abuse include dangerous behavior (i.e., drinking and driving or getting into fights), alcohol poisoning, and risky sexual behaviors, and excessive alcohol use can increase the risk of long-term health issues like:

  • Liver disease
  • Digestive problems
  • A weakened immune system
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Increased risk of developing cancer
  • Learning and memory issues
  • Dementia
  • Mental health problems
  • Social problems (i.e., divorce, unemployment, etc.)
  • Alcohol use disorder (addiction)

7 Long-term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

Alcohol has serious effects on the brain, and not just while you are feeling impaired. The brain is a delicate organ containing a fine balance of neurons, neurotransmitters, chemicals, and other structures that can easily be thrown off balance if you drink regularly. 

When you drink more alcohol than your liver can handle, it travels through the bloodstream, penetrating the blood-brain barrier directly into the brain’s neurons. This causes neurons to become damaged or killed off, signals between neurons to be sent slower, and automatic brain function (breathing, balance, etc.) to be impaired. Because GABA neurotransmitters are affected you will have slurred speech and slowed reaction times, and if you black out from drinking you may damage the hippocampus, causing brain cell death and short-term memory loss.

When the brain has to deal with these issues over and over again, it is forced to change and adapt, compensating for the issues caused by alcohol. The long-term effects of alcohol on the brain include:

  1. The development or exacerbation of mental health issues, including anxiety and depression
  2. Disruptions in mood and sociability
  3. Shrinking of the hippocampus, the area responsible for memory and learning, which can lead to serious learning disabilities and even dementia
  4. Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS) or “wet brain” due to thiamine deficiencies caused by alcohol consumption, causing confusion, eye muscle paralysis, issues with muscle coordination, learning and memory problems, and forgetfulness
  5. Serious injuries from falls, accidents, and fights, hitting the head and causing traumatic brain injury
  6. Hepatic Encephalopathy occurs when hepatitis (inflammation of the liver) develops from drinking. The injured liver will send unfiltered blood to the brain, which causes a buildup of toxins in the brain which may result in anxiety, depression, insomnia or sleeping too much, short attention span, shaky hands, coordination problems, and an altered personality
  7. Long-term drinking can also lead to physical dependence and alcoholism

Alcoholic brain damage has no cure, but it can be halted, and some treatments can help ease or lessen symptoms, as can lifestyle changes like quitting drinking immediately, thiamine and vitamin supplementation, and keeping fit with a healthy diet. Making these changes early will reduce the risk of developing serious long-term effects.


Find Detox and Addiction Recovery Help at The Detox Center of L.A.

Many people put off quitting alcohol because they fear the detox process, or because they are not aware of the many dangers that their drinking is putting them in. There is a strong social element to the culture around alcohol, so some people fear losing friendships or being awkward at parties. Whatever the case may be, it is important to recognize that your long-term health will be affected negatively if you continue drinking.

The best way to avoid the long-term effects of alcohol abuse is to go to a professional rehab facility. It is not safe to quit drinking cold turkey, especially if you have been drinking a lot, drinking for a long time, or if you have been combining alcohol with other drugs. Medical supervision is always recommended.

At The Detox Center of Los Angeles, we can help you quit drinking now, so you can halt the long-term effects of alcohol on the brain and begin your healing journey. We offer inpatient detox and rehab programs that are comprehensive, integrating several trauma-informed therapies, medical care, evidence-based treatments, behavioral therapies, and holistic care into one program tailored to your individual needs.

Detoxing from alcohol can be difficult, and can even become dangerous if not treated by medical professionals, which is why at the Detox Center of Los Angeles we provide effective and safe medical care and oversight from the moment you step through our doors to the moment you are ready to return home. Most people will need to spend at least a few days detoxing before beginning rehab, as the withdrawal symptoms can be distracting and it is important to have a clear head to be able to move forward from the grasp of alcohol addiction.

In our detox program we provide:

  • 24-hour medical services, with nurses available day and night to ensure you are comfortable and safe
  • Prescription medications to keep you from experiencing the worst of your withdrawal symptoms and alcohol cravings
  • Healthy food options cooked by our private chef, with snacks available if you are hungry between meals
  • A comfortable bed in a semi-private room with a TV
  • Therapy and counseling, with a meeting with your primary therapist every day
  • Holistic treatments to help you deal with discomfort and anxiety in a natural way
  • Dual diagnosis programs with mental health care may also start at this time

After detox (usually 3 to 10 days), you will begin your rehab program. You will remain inside the treatment center full-time, following a schedule of treatments that will keep you busy and help you deal with the underlying causes of addiction while at the same time providing you with recovery tools and sobriety skills, life skills, and case management services to help you begin to move forward in life. We have therapies and programs like:

  • 40 to 47 hours a week of group therapy
  • Individual therapy, meeting with your primary therapist at least twice a week
  • Family therapy sessions (if appropriate to you)
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy
  • Medication-assisted treatments
  • Dual diagnosis
  • Evidence-based psychoeducation
  • Life skills training and relapse prevention
  • Holistic treatments like breathwork, yoga, art therapy, experiential therapy, physical fitness, meditation, massage, and acupuncture
  • Behavioral treatments including cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy
  • Case management services
  • Phone use is permitted at certain times of day after an initial blackout period, so you can contact home and update everybody on your progress

With the help of our highly trained, non-judgmental, expert care providers, you will overcome your alcohol addiction in an efficient and effective program tailored to meet your recovery goals and to suit your lifestyle. We belong to a network of trusted rehab centers and can help you find long-term outpatient care after your inpatient treatment for continued sober support and community, and we can connect you to our alumni network, 12-step groups in your area, and other recovery resources. Please call us today for insurance verification or to learn more about getting treatment for alcohol use disorder. We can help you stop drinking and turn your health around.


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Will my insurance cover treatment for addiction?

The Detox Center of L.A. accepts most major insurance providers and private healthcare policies. We offer free insurance verification as well as eligibility and benefits for both behavioral and mental health treatment services. Please fill out our insurance verification form here to verify your insurance.

What happens in addiction

Effective addiction treatment programs are tailored to each individual. Because of this, it will be a different experience for everyone. However, it generally involves a combination of detoxification, group and individual therapy, educational presentations, and aftercare planning in order to ensure long-term recovery. Upon arrival at The Detox Center of L.A., you can expect our professionally trained staff to create an individualized treatment plan based on your needs and treatment goals.