Addiction Alcohol Use Quit Drinking to Reverse Alcoholic Brain Damage New cells can develop for years after quitting alcohol By Buddy T Buddy T Facebook Twitter Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. Learn about our editorial process Updated on April 07, 2021 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Steven Gans, MD Medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print TEK IMAGE/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty Images If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. When people who drink alcohol heavily stop drinking, some of the brain damage that long-time alcohol use can cause may reverse and some memory loss they may experience may stop. Overview Scientists have established that the "shrinkage" that alcohol can cause in some regions of the brain that results in cognitive damage will begin to reverse when alcohol stays out of the body for lengthening periods of time. To understand this important news for people recovering from alcoholism, it is key to understand how alcohol affects the brain. Brain Damage Doctors and researchers sometimes use the term alcohol-related cognitive impairment to refer to the damaging impact that repeated excessive alcohol consumption can have on the brain’s ability to function. Some of this impact stems directly from alcohol’s poisonous effects on the brain. Areas of the brain most likely to be damaged by alcoholism include the frontal lobe—responsible for higher-level mental skills as the ability to think logically and the ability to exert behavioral control—and the cerebellum, which gives the brain its ability to control and coordinate muscle movements. How Alcohol Damages the Brain MRI Testing In the study published in 2015 in Addiction Biology, researchers from the San Francisco VA Medical Center and UC San Francisco used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to examine the brains of a group of people who were recovering from alcoholism and abstaining from alcohol. Each study participant underwent MRI testing after being alcohol-free—for one week, one month, and seven and a half months. The researchers conducted multiple scans to track the changing state of the brain over time. The MRI research revealed that alcohol abstinence led to brain volume increases in key areas including the frontal lobe and cerebellum. This involved both gray matter and white matter. When the researchers studied the positive changes in gray matter volume, they concluded that most of these changes occurred in the three-week span between the end of the first week of abstinence and the end of the first month of abstinence. The positive changes in white matter volume occurred at a fairly consistent pace throughout the seven and a half months of abstinence. Alcohol Abstinence Earlier research conducted in 2004 on lab rats at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies was the first to show a burst of new brain cell development as a result of abstinence from chronic alcohol consumption. The Bowles research team examined the brain cell growth in adult rats that were given an amount of alcohol over a four-day period that produced alcohol dependence. The researchers found that alcohol dependency slowed neurogenesis or brain cell development. The research found that new cell growth took place in the brain's hippocampus with as little as four to five weeks of alcohol abstinence, including a "twofold burst" in brain cell growth on the seventh day of being alcohol-free. New Brain Cells It was long thought that the number of neurons in the adult brain was established early in life, but it is now known that the adult brain is capable of neurogenesis or the production of new neurons. Research looking at the emergence of new brain cells after abstinence from alcohol found that there were bursts of new cell development relatively soon after abstinence. Brain Impairment Since research has shown that the brain is impaired early on in recovery, the medical community has come to understand that it is important to not bombard people seeking alcohol recovery help with too much information early on. This can affect the effectiveness of alcoholism treatment programs in the first weeks of recovery and abstinence. Research on lab animals suggests that new brain cell growth can also be promoted by increased physical activity. How Exercise Can Help With Addiction 8 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Durazzo TC, Mon A, Gazdzinski S, Meyerhoff DJ. Regional brain volume changes in alcohol-dependent individuals during early abstinence: associations with relapse following treatment. Addict Biol. 2017;22(5):1416-1425. doi:10.1111/adb.12420 Sachdeva A, Chandra M, Choudhary M, Dayal P, Anand KS. Alcohol-Related Dementia and Neurocognitive Impairment: A Review Study. Int J High Risk Behav Addict. 2016;5(3):e27976. doi:10.5812/ijhrba.27976 Zheng H, Kong L, Chen L, Zhang H, Zheng W. Acute effects of alcohol on the human brain: a resting-state fMRI study. Biomed Res Int. 2015;2015:947529. doi:10.1155/2015/947529 Durazzo TC, Mon A, Gazdzinski S, Yeh PH, Meyerhoff DJ. Serial longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging data indicate non-linear regional gray matter volume recovery in abstinent alcohol-dependent individuals. Addict Biol. 2015;20(5):956-967. doi:10.1111/adb.12180 Nixon K, Crews FT. Temporally specific burst in cell proliferation increases hippocampal neurogenesis in protracted abstinence from alcohol. J Neurosci. 2004;24(43):9714-9722. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3063-04.2004 Geil CR, Hayes DM, McClain JA, et al. Alcohol and adult hippocampal neurogenesis: promiscuous drug, wanton effects. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2014;54:103-113. doi:10.1016/j.pnpbp.2014.05.003 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Substance Abuse Treatment: Group Therapy; 2005. Baek SS. Role of exercise on the brain. J Exerc Rehabil. 2016;12(5):380-385. doi:10.12965/jer.1632808.404 By Buddy T Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Get Treatment for Addiction Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.