Your head seems to be in the cloud after binge drinking with your siblings. This morning you’ve lost your phone, keys, and charger all within an hour. Alcohol and brain fog are common side effects of a hangover. Getting rid of brain fog after drinking alcohol can help you focus on recovery.

Alcohol is a popular substance, especially in polydrug use such as cocaine and benzodiazepines. Alcohol dependence can begin with binge or heavy drinking patterns. If left untreated, alcohol dependence can transition into an alcohol use disorder. The health concerns of an alcohol use disorder are usually enough to cause someone to embrace moderation.

alcohol and brain fog

What Is Brain Fog?

Brain fog is a vague term to describe uncertain states of consciousness. Brain fog is not classified as a condition. The symptoms of brain fog can include confusion, difficulty concentrating, and short-term memory loss. The range of symptoms could overlap. Brain fog does not have an official test so your healthcare provider could help from there. 

What Does Brain Fog Feel Like?

If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed with stress and anxiety, you might have felt like you’re detached from your mind and its processes. Brain fog feels like the room inside your head is not clean and requires a deep refresher. You might feel like you’re misplaced in your world. Brain fog symptoms may vary from person to person, however, slowed cognitive functioning seems to be a recurring element.

What Causes Brain Fog?

There are many causes of brain fog.

  • Pregnancy
  • Covid-19
  • Stress/Anxiety
  • Certain medications
  • Cancer treatment
  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Dehydration
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Migraines
  • Lack of sleep
  • Lack of exercise
  • Substance use
  • Poor nutrition

How Is Brain Fog Connected With Substance Abuse?

Alcohol abuse also leads to a poor diet which can also contribute to brain fog symptoms.

Can Alcohol Cause Brain Fog?

Alcohol and brain fog may be related to the significant changes in the brain from long-term alcohol use. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. Blackouts are common with heavy drinking, which can result in side effects of alcohol after use.

Alcohol causes brain fog by altering the way our brains use glucose – the naturally occurring sugar that our neurons need to communicate with one another. The use of glucose includes its conversion into a usable energy source, through an electrochemical process known as oxidative phosphorylation. 

Alcohol abuse can cause brain fog by inhibiting the energy metabolism of our brain’s neurons. When alcohol isn’t metabolized properly, less glucose is available to fuel neurotransmitters like glutamate and GABA. An alcohol use disorder causes brain damage due to malnutrition and inflammation caused by an overabundance of toxic metabolites such as ammonia, acetaldehyde, and free radicals.

This alcohol and brain damage slows down communication between our neurons because it impedes the production of new proteins, which are key components for healthy neural communication. Lowered levels of neurotransmitters can result in problems relating to memory and learning. Alongside alcohol’s neurotoxic effects, we see how it can lead to brain fog. It is alcohol’s effects on the neurotransmitter glutamate that lead us to understand alcohol as a neurotoxin.

Ethanol impairs the glutamate neurotransmitter, which helps control our cognitive abilities such as learning and memory. The more alcohol you drink, the harder it will be for your body to process these neurotransmitters, and alcohol’s brain-damaging effects will continue to worsen.

Alcohol impairs GABA, a calming neurotransmitter that reduces anxiety and stress levels in the brain. Alcoholics have been shown to have lower levels of GABA receptors than those who are not alcoholics (R). Many alcoholics self-medicate their condition by using benzodiazepines as supplements for their lowered levels of GABA neurotransmitters.

Alcohol can cause brain fog, especially during the detox process. Detoxification is the process of ridding the body of toxic substances. Substance misuse can cause a buildup of toxins that drain and exhaust the body. Your mind is craving more of the substance, which can cause a mental strain without support. 

What Are Signs Of Alcohol-Related Brain Fog?

Symptoms of alcohol-related brain fog include:

  • Slowed thinking
  • Trouble recalling information
  • Feeling detached from reality
  • Feeling sluggishness or lethargy
  • Lack of coordination/balance issues

Many alcoholics experience brain fog when they first stop drinking alcohol. This has to do with alcohol’s effect on the brain that controls decision-making, namely how alcohol affects cognitive functioning. Alcohol use contributes to brain fog by impacting the way neurotransmitters function in your body and altering your brain waves. This makes it harder for the areas of the brain responsible for memory and thinking to work properly

 Brain fog from alcohol could be a result of the brain overworking itself from the production of chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters. The stress on the brain from alcohol misuse can lead to the worsening of these symptoms. Heavy alcohol use has been linked to brain damage and other disorders.

Brain Fog And Mental Illness

Mood disorders like anxiety and depression are the most common alcohol-related mental issues. Alcohol changes how your brain processes information, which can impact memory, moods, sleep patterns, appetite, and overall energy levels. It’s no surprise that those recovering from an AUD (Alcohol Use Disorder) experience alcohol-induced brain fog.

The alcohol withdrawal symptoms begin when you stop drinking alcohol following an extended period of alcohol abuse. Both alcohol cravings and alcohol withdrawal symptoms contribute to cognitive problems in recovery. 

Your body is working hard to clear out excess alcohol toxins while you battle intense alcohol cravings, so it makes sense that your ability to think clearly will be impaired during this time. The severity of these alcohol withdrawal symptoms isn’t limited to just physical symptoms.

The link between alcohol and brain fog is also related to alcohol’s impact on mental illnesses. People with alcohol abuse problems are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder. 

This is recognized as a co-occurring disorder. It’s important to treat both disorders to ensure the best possible addiction recovery outcome. Dual diagnosis treatment is the best approach to tackle these issues. Comorbidity is a repeated theme within addiction treatment, considering the symptoms of mental health are influenced by substance use and vice versa.

Brain Fog Remedies In Addiction Recovery

Brain fog in addiction recovery can be frustrating to overcome, especially when you’re attempting to focus on proper coping skills and therapy.

Brain fog remedies may come in the form of:

  • Getting ample amounts of exercise
  • Getting the right amounts of sleep (6-8 hours daily)
  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Prioritizing mental health 
  • Stimulate your mind
  • Socializing

Alcohol wipes out the deep sleep we need to feel refreshed, which can leave you feeling tired during the day. This is due to dead neurons that alcohol kills in the process of methanol poisoning. Alcohol also steals your sleep by triggering snoring, disrupting REM sleep patterns, or keeping you from falling into a sound slumber.

It disrupts our bodies’ natural production of growth hormones, leaving us depressed and making it more difficult to get over past traumas, like those experienced while drinking alcohol. The result can be even more devastating towards the impact on a recovering individual.

In alcohol addiction treatment, alcohol-induced brain fog is a significant problem. It can even happen after alcohol detox or alcohol rehab, as alcohol damage lingers in your body long after you quit drinking alcohol. Alcohol abuse can cause memory problems similar to those of dementia psychosis.

Alcohol and brain fog treatments could include:

You can ask your doctor about using certain medications to treat alcohol-related brain fog. Some of these medicines include antidepressants or anti-anxiety pills which reduce alcohol cravings by altering the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the body. Other drugs that are used for treatment are DMAE, Ginkgo Biloba, Magnesium, or piracetam. It’s best to always consult your, doctor, before taking any medicine

Does Brain Fog Clear? What Happens When It Does?

Brain fog can clear with a combination of techniques and daily practices.  People with an AUD have a protracted withdrawal phase due to the alcohol’s potent effects on neuroreceptors, which can last up to 26 weeks after alcohol cessation. A person’s brain chemistry can change dramatically through alcohol use. 

In addiction recovery, alcohol brain fog will resolve as it is removed from the body. With ongoing mental health therapy and proper coping skills, alcohol abstinence can be maintained for years to come with ongoing sobriety. Alcohol use disorders are associated with malnutrition, which can slow the processes of the body.

As the alcohol is metabolized and nutritional states are restored, alcohol brain fog can clear with time. Once alcohol is eliminated and alcohol withdrawal symptoms subside, people recovering from an AUD will feel more like themselves again. This change can initiate them to become more motivated to maintain sobriety. Motivation plays a major role in addiction recovery, considering the rates of relapse.


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