Drank too many cups of kindness - can I get better?
March 6, 2010 11:19 PM   Subscribe

A few weeks ago I reduced my alcohol intake from way too much to nearly nothing. I feel a lot better. But can I ever feel all the way "normal" again?

I wasted a lot of my 20s. I used to drink to excess every weekend, quiet benders that blurred Friday afternoon through late Sunday into a smear. Now I'm totally sober except for maybe two drinks a week (really). I feel better. No desperate guilt in the morning, losing weight, all that good stuff.

BUT my head still feels pretty fuzzy. You know the feeling when you wake up after a night of drinking and the details of the previous night are fuzzy? I'm still feeling that way...but without any alcohol!

Will my memory improve? Will I ever be sharp as a tack, bright eyed and bushy tailed, like I was in college? Will I ever be able to jump into bed, fall asleep, and pop out actually refreshed in the morning?

I guess I understand some impairment of cognitive functions just from growing older. But I'm having trouble finding real "data" or even anecdotal experiences about the "recovery" process. I'm still clever and quick-witted, but the memory recall ain't what it ought to be.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
You do kill some brain cells, especially with binge drinking. I know well the fog you speak of. Be more worried about your liver, once it goes, it brings down most of the other major organs in a chain-reaction, resulting in ICU time, with a catheter and bedpan. Don't go down that road, it's a dead-end, literally. I'll leave it at that.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 11:34 PM on March 6, 2010

If you have damaged your brain through excessive drinking over a long period then some loss of memory should be expected. Cessation of excessive drinking is a good start if you want to halt the damage. Good on you so far.

If you want to reverse the physical damage, I'm not sure you can. But information and resources on improving memory are easy to find online.

FWIW, I have known quite a few recovered alcoholics who mentioned the "fog" or "fuzziness" taking years to lift completely even after they quit drinking permanently.
posted by evil_esto at 11:43 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not a medical person here, but I would say give it some time. Your body takes time to balance itself again and after only a few weeks you can't expect to be used to it. The only thing I can draw from is my experience going off Paxil and I felt weird for at least a few months. Then one day I realized I didn't notice what was bothering me before -- sort of like how you cough for a few days after a cold and it bugs you but then it's gone and you didn't even notice.

In any case, don't let the lack of an "instant" improvement deter you from staying on the healthy path you seem to have chosen for yourself. Cheers.
posted by thorny at 12:07 AM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Fog of Alcoholism Clears With Sobriety
Alcoholics in Recovery Regain Normal Brain Function

"Aug. 28, 2006 -- The fog of alcoholism clears with long-term sobriety, a Stanford University study shows.

It's not just the direct effect of booze. Alcoholics' brains get messed up. These neuropsychological deficits continue even after an alcoholic dries out. How long do they last?

George Fein, PhD, and colleagues studied 25 men and 23 women who were alcoholics. Their average age was 47, ranging from 35 to 57. They hadn't had a drink for an average of 6.7 years, ranging from six months to 13 years of sobriety. The researchers also studied the same number of age- and sex-matched volunteers who never drank much, if at all.

"We found that the cognitive and mental abilities of middle-aged alcoholics who had been abstinent for six months to 13 years are indistinguishable from those of age- and gender-comparable nonalcoholics," Fein says, in a news release.

Moreover, age has a lot to do with the long-term effects of alcohol on the brain. Those who start earlier or who wait until old age to stop likely suffer more brain damage.

The researchers are currently comparing the effects of sobriety on alcoholics who stopped drinking before the age of 50, from age 50 to 60, and after 60. They expect to find that older brains will recover much more slowly.

"We're not saying that you will have full recovery [of mental function] if you stop drinking in your 50s or 60s," Fein says. "We are saying that these people stopped drinking earlier, and they appear to have close-to-full recovery of function."

From my own personal anecdotal evidence, the alcoholic fog does eventually lift. I have been sober for 17 years after 20+ years of alcoholic drinking. The first year of sobriety I was still literally spaced on many occasions. It was a bit worrisome at the time, but it did eventually seem to improve.

I do still have problems with what I would describe a short-term memory. My girlfriend calls it selective memory. She says I forget things she told me yesterday, but I can remember a sport statistic from 30 years ago. Go figure.
posted by netbros at 12:16 AM on March 7, 2010 [5 favorites]

Take fish oil (or krill oil) and Vitamin D. Eat blueberries (really: there's evidence blueberries increase cognitive function). Get more exercise. You'll feel better and think better.
posted by orthogonality at 12:36 AM on March 7, 2010 [6 favorites]

Forgot to mention - you might need a thiamine (vitamin B) boost.
posted by evil_esto at 12:41 AM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Go to sleep half an hour earlier. Get up half an hour earlier. Eat a real breakfast.
posted by K.P. at 3:05 AM on March 7, 2010

Give it 6-12 months.
posted by milarepa at 4:07 AM on March 7, 2010

This might seem a bit obvious but you have probably just cut a substantial chunk of calories from your weekly intake. That deficit will produce both weight loss and cognitive impairment. You simply have less energy available for your body to use for all its functions including thinking.

I've been on a diet for 8 months now (just hit the healthy BMI range probably for the first time in my adult life) and I can tell you that calorie restriction messes with your head. Tracking calories consumed and burned really gives you insight into how food contributes to your energy levels, will power, thinking and general feelings of health.
posted by srboisvert at 4:14 AM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Start regular aerobic exercise. It'll help your brain.
posted by sickinthehead at 5:53 AM on March 7, 2010

I'm also in the give it time camp. You were introducing a chemical into your body at high doses for a long period of time and are no longer doing so. Your body needs to readjust, and you also need to readjust to your readjusted body. I think the points about nutrition, sleep, and exercise are all spot on, but don't try to reinvent everything overnight. Small, incremental changes are just as meaningful and tend to last more overtime. Best of luck!
posted by katemcd at 6:44 AM on March 7, 2010

Seconding fish oil and blueberries, and bring up your carb-protein ratio in favor of protein (i.e. meat, eggs, cheese). A couple of MeFites have reported (1,2) ginkgo helps, too (be aware there are medical contraindications for taking it), though I can't speak for it personally.
posted by crapmatic at 7:03 AM on March 7, 2010

How many hours do you sleep every night and are you sure you are getting good quality sleep for the entire night? You brain really needs sleep. 8 to 9 hours should be your goal. If you don't think you are getting enough sleep talk to a doctor or do a sleep study.
posted by Procloeon at 8:44 AM on March 7, 2010

I am in the give it time and sleep camp. To me the morning after drinking a bit too much and a morning after getting woefully little sleep feel very much the same. Also remember that you are older regardless of what mistreatment you did to your body. I bet it has been almost 10 years since you were the freshman in college. Your body isn't going to feel the same as that 10 years later or at the very least it is going to need differing amounts of TLC.

Good luck.
posted by mmascolino at 11:43 AM on March 7, 2010

Wow, what an awesome step toward health and feeling good you have taken. Seriously, congratulations. You've put that foot forward, and you should be proud of that.

Try to really get into it, and give your body and mind the best of everything. Spoil yourself rotten. I'm talking exercise (especially in the morning, or early evening), and getting lots of sleep. Eat healthy, especially high-protein and fresh fruits and veggies. Take a multivitamin daily, if you are so inclined. With mindfulness, spend some time every day appreciating how your body feels, not hungover. Instead of spending weekend mornings in bed until noon and then desperately trying to shake the nausea and guilt, get up and take a walk in the sunshine and feel just how damn awesome it is to have the sun on your back, a coffee in hand, and no crushing headache and nausea.

My guess is that with a couple weeks of getting that good exercise, lots of rest and great nutrition, you will start to feel sharper, more engaged, more awake and attentive. It's worked for me in the past.
posted by bunnycup at 1:56 PM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have struggled with the same issue. I find the longer I go without having any alcohol, the better I feel cognitively. Now that I have calmed down with the partying, even if I have 1-2 beers on a Friday, the fuzzy brain fog comes back. You should read about PAWS. For me it is all about time, exercise, diet, and meditation / yoga. Feel free to MeMail me if you want to talk about it.
posted by jasondigitized at 4:16 PM on March 7, 2010

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