Our brains can recover from drug and alcohol use

While the use of alcohol and drugs can damage our brains, the good news is that some damage is reversible. Credit Vladimir Fedotov https://unsplash.com/photos/J6DGlnyOzuI

Several weeks ago we highlighted in a post the damage that even moderate amounts of alcohol can do to your brain. While the information is enough to make your next pint or glass of wine taste a little sour, the good news is that there is potential for our brain to recover if we give it a chance, even after prolonged alcohol use.

According to a recent article on the Alcohol and Drug Foundation website, our brains have an incredible ability to adapt and repair from prolonged alcohol use. The same can be said about drug use.

While it was once commonly thought that once we lost brain cells we didn’t get them back, this isn’t true. Our brains build cells and the connections that send signals from one part of our brains to another all the way through our lives. This ability to modify, grow and reorganise itself is what helps our brains recover from prolonged alcohol or drug use, or addiction.

There are some caveats to this welcome news, however:

  • It takes time. How long will depend on a range of factors and in particular the damage done.
  • Not all damage is reversible.
  • For your brain to recover, you can’t just cut back on alcohol or drugs a little. You must give up completely or reduce the amount of alcohol or drugs you consume significantly.

Helping our brains recover from drug and alcohol misuse

The good news doesn’t end there. As well as stopping or significantly reducing use, there are other things you can do to help brain recovery after prolonged use:

  • We all know regular exercise is good for our bodies, but it’s also good for our brains. It increases the size of the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is vulnerable when alcohol and drugs are misused.
  • Practices such as meditation, yoga, tai chi and other mindfulness exercises can also assist.
  • A well balanced and nutritious diet can also help in the recovery. People who misuse alcohol and drugs typically are vitamin and mineral deficient.
  • Regular sleep can also assist brain recovery. When we sleep the brain flushes out toxins.

Safe alcohol and drug use

As the Alcohol and Drug Foundation mention regularly on their website, there is no safe level of drug use and this includes alcohol. You are best to abstain from both drugs (illicit and non-prescribed) and alcohol throughout your life.

If you do want to drink alcohol, however, and protect your brain and the rest of your body, there are guidelines you can follow. These guidelines were developed by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

The simple guidelines state that to reduce the risk of harm from alcohol we should have:

  • No more than 10 standard drinks per week.
  • No more than 4 standard drinks on any day.

The guidelines also advise pregnant and breastfeeding babies not to drink alcohol. The same advice is given for people under 18, to protect their developing brains.


While the use of alcohol and drugs can damage our brains, the good news is that some damage is reversible. Credit Vladimir Fedotov https://unsplash.com/photos/J6DGlnyOzuI

By Michael

Michael is the founder of Integrity Sampling and is responsible for overseeing all national operations. He is based at Integrity Sampling's head office in Melbourne and is also responsible for the co-ordination of drug and alcohol testing within Victoria, assisting in the implementation of drug and alcohol (fit for work) policies and the presentation of drug and alcohol education and awareness programs. You can connect with Michael Wheeldon on LinkedIn

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