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How long it takes for brain to recover after quitting alcohol? Scientists answer

How long it takes for brain to recover after quitting alcohol? Scientists answer How long it takes for brain to recover after quitting alcohol (RBC-Ukraine collage)

Scientists determined how much time the human body and brain need for full recovery after prolonged alcohol harmful effects. The cortex of the brain becomes thinner, leading to various disorders after continued alcohol consumption, according to research published in Alcohol journal.

What happens to alcoholics' brains

Stanford University researchers found out that people with alcohol use disorder (AUD) tend to have thinning in the cortex area of the brain. The cortex is crucial for many cognitive functions.

For those who quit drinking, the thickness of the cortex increases faster within the first month and continues for 7.3 months, after which the thickness becomes comparable to those without AUD.

"The few longitudinal studies investigating cortical thickness changes during abstinence are limited to the first month of sobriety," say the authors of the study, led by psychiatrist and behavioral scientist Timothy Durazzo from Stanford University.

Changes in the structure and functions of the brain during chronic alcohol consumption can complicate the cessation of alcohol use, despite the best intentions.

For example, the prefrontal cortex, involved in planning and decision-making, may become less active, making it harder for people with AUD to make healthy decisions.

Durazzo and his colleagues also studied how certain health conditions, smoking history, mental illnesses, and disorders related to the use of psychoactive substances affect long-term changes in cortical thickness in people recovering from AUD.

How the study was conducted

For their study, scientists observed a group of people who abstained from alcohol for about a year. They took measurements every month and also examined 45 people who had never suffered from AUD.

To observe the participants' brains, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used, which is especially useful for clear images of the internal structure of the body. Researchers measured the thickness of the cortex for 34 brain areas, averaging measurements for the left and right hemispheres.

The recovery of cortex thickness for AUD patients after 7.3 months without alcohol was a widespread phenomenon. Cortex thickening happened more slowly in certain parts of the brain for people with AUD who also had high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels.

The same was true for people with AUD who also smoke. So, quitting smoking may contribute to the restoration of cortex thickness.

What scientists have found

"These results are inspiring and provide new insights into brain recovery after giving up alcohol, although due to a small sample size and lack of diversity, they cannot be generalized. It is also important to note that these results do not indicate whether the changes have affected brain function. More research is needed to study the neurocognitive and psycho-social correlates of cortical thickness recovery during prolonged AUD abstinence," note the study's authors.

They add that there are still variables they did not consider - genetics, physical activity, liver and lung health. These factors could also have influenced the results.

This material is for informational purposes only and should not be used for medical diagnosis or self-treatment. Our goal is to provide readers with accurate information about symptoms, causes, and methods of detecting diseases. RBС-Ukraine is not responsible for any diagnoses that readers may make based on materials from the resource. We do not recommend self-treatment and advise consulting a doctor in case of any health concerns.