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How does alcohol affect the brain?

Alcohol can have long-lasting effects on the brain and affects the way the brain works and controls the rest of the body. For example, alcohol will block chemical signals between brain cells, which leads to the common immediate symptoms of intoxication. Alcohol causes a person to engage in impulsive behavior, have slurred speech, poor memory, and slowed reflexes. When the heavy drinking continues, the brain adapts to the blocked signals. When someone stops drinking, the brain continues over activating neurotransmitters, which creates dangerous withdrawal symptoms. The damage done to the brain from binge drinking is much worse. Neurotoxicity occurs in the brain when neurons overreact to neurotransmitters for too long. Eventually, this causes neurons to burn out which leads to slowed reactions within the body. Alcohol dependency causes brain shrinkage, which is the reduced volume of both gray matter and white matter within the brain. The loss of brain matter increases with age and the amount of alcohol being consumed.

There are many visible effects someone will notice when alcohol has damaged the brain. For example, there can be different cognitive impairments as a result of heavy drinking. The impairments include verbal fluency, verbal learning, processing speed, working memory, attention, problem solving, spatial processing, and impulsivity. The higher functions within the brain are more susceptible to the damage done by alcohol. Adolescents are especially at risk for this damage because the brain is still developing, and the damage can be long-lasting or permanent. Cognitive impairment grows worse with alcohol use and can result in alcohol-related dementia, which represents around 10% of all dementia cases. Malnutrition because of alcohol abuse, also contributes to brain damage. However, the brain can repair itself and with the proper treatment, and if started in time, abstinence from alcohol can reverse much of the physical damage caused by heavy drinking.

During treatment, the brain can heal itself; however, it does require being abstinent from alcohol. Brain tissue that has been repaired leads to improved cognitive performance. Along with this, improvement comes as a result of the brain adapting to the damage and creating a new pathway to complete basic tasks. Typically, after one year not drinking alcohol, the improved cognitive function starts to show itself, and more extended periods of abstinence does result in more enhanced cognitive functions. For example, things such as attention and working memory were significantly improved in patients who had remained alcohol-free. Alcohol is a devastating drug and does significant damage to the brain. However, despite the damage that is done the brain is resilient and can heal and adapt to most injury and damage.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment and Family Intervention

Alcohol addiction, like any other addiction, causes significant damage to the body. The brain is resilient and can recover but convincing an alcoholic of this is not easy. The average person addicted to alcohol does not see the physical harm their addiction is causing to them. Any physical pain or discomfort they feel is managed with more alcohol, and it becomes an endless cycle. Alcohol addiction consumes the person physically and mentally, which makes it difficult to convince them they need help.

The best way to help anyone addicted to alcohol is by organizing a family intervention. Family interventions are successful, especially when a professional interventionist is hired. There are intervention groups that operate across the country performing interventions. When the family decides to contact a professional interventionist, they are taking control and deciding to save the life of their loved one. A professional interventionist is qualified and trained to counsel the family and help them organize the intervention.

Upon successful completion of an intervention, the individual is escorted to the treatment center, and the interventionist continues to work with the family. Alcohol addiction intervention is not easy, especially if the individual is still working and maintaining aspects of their life. It takes a well-planned effort to convince them they need treatment and demonstrate how their alcohol addiction has impacted the lives of the people around them.

The first step with rehabilitation is always detox, and this cannot be avoided. The detoxification process is essential for alcohol addiction because withdrawal symptoms are difficult to manage. Medically supervised detox is usually the best choice, but the severity of the alcohol addiction determines what detox is required. During medical detox, medication is prescribed to control withdrawal symptoms, which is a method of withdrawal management. Conventional detox could be an option, but only of the withdrawal symptoms do not require medical supervision.

Detoxification should never be considered the only treatment approach—a detox program does not provide the necessary counseling and therapy to treat the addiction. Following any detox, the next step is residential short-term or long-term rehabilitation. However, the severity of the addiction usually determines what rehabilitation method is needed.

Residential treatment is the best option because all the services and amenities are provided onsite. Most alcoholics benefit from long-term residential treatment because it offers all the necessary counseling and caters services to the patient. Short-term residential treatment is brief, but intensive and most short-term centers provide treatment for three to six weeks. When deciding on rehabilitation for alcohol addiction, an interventionist could help a family locate a suitable program. Alcohol addiction treatment should be well-rounded care and rehabilitate the person physically, mentally, and spiritually.

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