How Long Does It Take To Reverse Alcohol Damage?

Published On: September 13, 2023

You may be aware that the effects of alcohol can damage your body and brain, but how long does it take to reverse alcohol damage?

To answer this question, we will need to look at how alcohol damages the body and brain, as well as whether it is even possible to reverse these effects.

How Does Alcohol Damage the Body?

A bar with a queue of people

Below, we discuss the various ways alcohol can damage the human body:

1. Skin

The skin is your largest organ, so any damage caused to it by alcohol will usually be visible to the naked eye.

Alcohol is extremely dehydrating, so you may notice sunken eyes, dry skin, dark circles and redness, as well as more fine lines and wrinkles.

You are also more likely to contract a bacterial or fungal infection if you drink excessively, as your immune system will be compromised. This can also lead to an increased risk of skin cancer.

2. Liver

As the liver processes the majority of alcohol consumed, this substance can be extremely damaging to this vital organ.

Alcohol can destroy the cells in your liver, and over time this can lead to severe scarring, which is commonly known as cirrhosis.

This also makes you more susceptible to developing liver cancer as well as alcoholic hepatitis, both of which can have a detrimental effect on your life.

3. Kidneys

Your kidneys function as a filter, processing substances such as alcohol and ensuring that your body remains healthy.

If you drink too much alcohol, you can damage your kidneys to the point that they are no longer able to function. [1]

This can cause kidney failure, and over time this can lead to kidney disease.

4. Bones

Calcium is essential for healthy bones, but drinking too much alcohol can interfere with this vital mineral and prevent your body from absorbing it properly.

A calcium deficiency can lead to osteoporosis, a condition that makes your bones more brittle and likely to break. [2]

You are also more likely to fall when you are intoxicated, and this combination can result in several broken bones.

5. Heart

You are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease if you drink a lot of alcohol. This is when your heart, arteries or blood vessels become damaged. [3]

Alcohol can increase your blood pressure, putting you at risk of a heart attack. It can also cause an irregular heart rate, increase your risk of developing a blood clot and potentially lead to heart failure.

How Does Alcohol Damage the Brain?

alcohol and brain

Below, we discuss the various ways alcohol can damage the brain:

1. Mental Health

You may have noticed that you feel more anxious the day after drinking a lot of alcohol.

This is because alcohol disrupts a careful chemical balance in your brain which controls your moods and feelings. [4]

If you regularly drink large amounts of alcohol, you are more likely to feel anxious or depressed. You may even experience psychosis or suicidal thoughts, which can be extremely dangerous.

2. Dementia

Excessive alcohol consumption can also lead to alcohol-related dementia due to the shrinking of the brain.

You may find it difficult to remember events, people and places, struggle to complete daily tasks and feel extremely confused.

Many people associate dementia with elderly people, but it can happen at a younger age if you drink too much alcohol.

3. Brain Damage

Alcohol-related brain damage is a serious condition that can affect your entire life.

This is when alcohol damages and even kills your brain cells, causing the brain to shrink. This can lead to memory loss, lower cognitive functioning or even Wernicke-Korsakoff disease, which is similar to dementia. [5]

Your brain becomes damaged by alcohol as it affects nerve cells and blood vessels while also putting you at a greater risk of suffering a head injury due to intoxication.

Why Does Alcohol Damage the Body and Brain?


If you see alcohol as a way to relax, enjoy social events and have fun, it can be difficult to understand how damaging this substance is.

Alcohol has officially been classified as a poison and contains numerous toxins which are extremely damaging to your body and brain.

These include acetic acid and acetaldehyde, both of which can wreak habit on your physical and mental health.

When you drink alcohol, your body needs to work hard to eliminate these toxins, but if you drink too much for too long, then it can become overwhelmed and be unable to get rid of them.

Factors that can influence how much damage is caused by alcohol include:

  • How long you have been drinking alcohol at damaging levels
  • How much alcohol you drink regularly
  • If any other substances were used as well as alcohol, such as nicotine or cocaine
  • Your family history of alcohol use and alcohol damage
  • Your general physical and mental health

Your liver will process most of the alcohol that you consume, which is why liver damage is so common in people with alcohol addiction.

A small amount of alcohol is also processed through your breath, urine and sweat, which can cause damage to these areas of the body.

Even with all this work, alcohol will remain in your system for around 7-12 hours until your body can eliminate all of it.

Is it Possible to Reverse Alcohol Damage?

Alcohol addiction

The good news is a lot of the above damage to the body and brain can be reversed over time.

Studies have found that those who stopped drinking for one year were able to reverse many of the changes in their brain caused by alcohol.

If they were able to continue their sobriety for 5-7 years along with living a healthy lifestyle, the majority of the damage to their brain and body was able to be reversed.

However, some damage is not reversible.

If your liver becomes severely damaged due to your alcohol intake, you may develop cirrhosis which is the inflammation of the liver.

Even if you stop drinking alcohol and begin to live a healthy lifestyle, in most cases, you will require a liver transplant to recover.

If you have developed a medical condition due to alcohol damage, such as osteoporosis or a heart issue, you will also require professional treatment alongside sobriety to improve your health.

Other conditions, such as alcohol-related ulcers, can be reversed over time, but some scar tissue may remain.

You can improve your skin condition, immune system and overall physical and mental health by removing alcohol from your life in a safe way.

How Long Does it Take to Reverse Alcohol Damage to the Body?

A doctor typing on a keyboard with a stethoscope to her side

If you have developed one or more physical health conditions due to alcohol, you may be curious to know how long it will take to reverse the damage.

While not all alcohol-related issues can be reversed, many of them can.

The majority of the improvements will take place within the first year of sobriety and lifestyle changes.

Many people find that their progress slows down after this time, which may affect motivation. It’s important to continue with these positive changes even if you are no longer seeing any improvements – they will still occur, albeit more slowly than the initial year.

After you have been sober for 5-7 years, the majority of the damage will have been reversed, aside from the conditions that cannot be fixed.

You will also need to ensure that you are living a healthy lifestyle as well as avoiding alcohol, as this will give you the best chance of fixing as much damage as possible.

How Long Does it Take to Reverse Alcohol Damage to the Brain?

Two doctors in white coats and stethoscopes talking

You may be relieved to learn that the brain can recover remarkably quickly from the damage caused by alcohol use.

Studies have found that any shrinking of the brain that has developed due to alcohol will begin to reverse within two weeks of sobriety.

However, some damage is not able to be reversed, as alcohol can permanently kill your brain cells and cause shrinkage of the brain. [6]

Thankfully in many cases, the cells themselves are still alive and have simply gotten smaller. Once the brain begins to recover, these cells will grow again.

Your cognitive functions can also improve very quickly after you stop drinking alcohol, and this is thought to be because brain growth happens in this area of the brain first.

Other functions, such as multitasking effectively, can take longer to improve as the growth occurs more slowly in this area.

Reversing the damage that alcohol can cause to your mental health can be a slower process, often requiring months or even several years of counselling along with medication in some cases.

How Can I Reverse Alcohol Damage?

Four glasses of pale and dark cider in a tasting platter

The first step towards reversing alcohol damage is to completely stop drinking alcohol, as this will give your body time to heal without having to constantly process more toxins.

It may not always be safe to stop drinking cold turkey, particularly if you have been drinking large amounts of alcohol regularly for some time.

Speak to your doctor before making any changes to your alcohol consumption, as they may want you to work with a drug and alcohol support team or a rehab clinic to ensure that you can detox safely.

Once you have stopped drinking alcohol, you should undergo a full medical check-up to determine which areas of your body have been damaged.

Even if you have not been drinking alcohol for long, you may be surprised at the effects on your brain and body.

Some people become deficient in certain vitamins and minerals, which can be replenished through prescribed supplements or a medical IV drip. Others may have more severe conditions which will require professional treatment.

Finally, you will need to develop some healthy lifestyle habits to heal your mind and body. These may include eating a varied and nutritious diet, drinking more water, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep and attending counselling sessions.

While not every alcohol-related condition can be reversed, many people go on to live healthy and happy lives after gaining control of their alcohol use.

How Can I Stop Drinking Alcohol Safely?

A bartender measuring a unit of alcohol into a cocktail shaker

While the idea of eliminating alcohol from your life may appear simple and productive, it can cause more damage if you do not seek professional help.

This is because alcohol can cause physical changes to your brain and body. Your chemical balance may have changed, different neural pathways have been formed, and you have likely developed some form of tolerance to alcohol.

In short, your brain and body have become used to functioning with alcohol in your system and may have adapted the way they work.

If the alcohol is suddenly taken away, the resulting chemical imbalance can be very dangerous.

To ensure that this process is performed as safely as possible, you should seek medical help and guidance.

This may involve speaking to your doctor, who will be able to refer you to a local alcohol support team or a rehab clinic where you will be able to detox safely.

You will be assessed and given a detox plan tailored to your specific needs, and will slowly cut down on your alcohol consumption under medical supervision over 7-10 days.

This can be done at a rehab clinic as an inpatient or outpatient or even in the comfort of your own home if your doctor deems your risk of severe withdrawal to be low.

It’s important to remember that your tolerance level for alcohol will quickly reduce, so a relapse can put you at a greater risk of alcohol poisoning after you have completed a detox.

Which Withdrawal Symptoms Will I Experience When I Stop Drinking Alcohol?

Woman looking sad

Detoxing from alcohol is not an easy process, particularly when you are experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Most people will experience at least some of the more common alcohol withdrawal symptoms as your body attempts to rebalance and function without alcohol.

They are usually nothing to worry about, and you may be prescribed medication to help alleviate these symptoms and keep you feeling more comfortable.

However, it is important that you are monitored throughout the process, as common withdrawal symptoms can quickly turn into severe symptoms without warning.

Common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Cravings
  • Sweating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mood swings
  • Shakiness
  • Brain fog
  • Confusion
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Tremors
  • Exhaustion

Some people may experience a more severe form of alcohol withdrawal known as delirium tremens.

This can be extremely dangerous and even fatal in some cases, which is why it’s so important to detox under medical supervision.

You are more likely to develop delirium tremens if you have had it before, you have been drinking alcohol for a long time, or you drink large amounts of alcohol.

Delirium tremens affects between 3% and 5% of people who meet the above conditions.

Severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Extreme confusion
  • High fever
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Coma

Even if you have only experienced common withdrawal symptoms up until this point, anyone can develop delirium tremens at any point during the detox process.








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