The Effects of Drugs and Alcohol on the Brain

Drug and alcohol abuse has been linked to a variety of mental and emotional health disorders. This is because drugs and alcohol can cause temporary or permanent damage to the areas of the brain that are responsible for our emotional and psychological well-being.

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol & Drug Abuse

The short-term effects of alcohol and drugs may vary from case to case, but a few of the common symptoms include:

  • Disinhibition, possibly leading to violence, sexual acting out, and other non-typical behavior
  • Mood swings
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Impaired judgment
  • Trouble with motor coordination
  • Hangover after binges
  • Delayed reactions
  • Memory lapses or blackouts
  • Stupor
  • Coma

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol & Drug Abuse

Conditions that have been linked to long-term drug and alcohol abuse include tolerance, where the brain becomes accustomed to substance use and more and more of the drug or alcohol is required to get the same “buzz”. Other long-term effects of alcohol and drugs may include paranoia, hallucinations, depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and physical effects like yellowing of the eyes, jaundice, and gastritis of the stomach. Longer term alcohol abuse can also lead to a condition where veins in the esophagus can ulcerate, leading to death from bleeding out into the stomach.

Prolonged substance abuse can cause the brain’s circuitry to deteriorate, resulting in loss of memory, increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, and decreased learning capability. Long-term methamphetamine abuse is known to cause psychosis in some users. There are many harmful, sometimes irreversible, effects of substance abuse on the brain.


Long-term alcohol abuse can lead to irreversible brain damage. Prolonged liver dysfunction as a result of chronic alcohol abuse can damage the brain and contribute to a potentially life-threatening brain disorder called hepatic encephalopathy. This disorder is known to cause changes in sleep patterns, mood and personality, have psychiatric implications like developing depression and anxiety, cognitive effects like shortened attention span, and problems with coordination. Alcohol abusers are increasingly more likely to suffer from major depressive disorder than those who do not drink.

Alcohol interferes with the body’s ability to absorb thiamine, contributing to deficiency. As described in an article from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, this thiamine deficiency can result in brain injury that includes a combination of Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis. This debilitating and potentially deadly neurological condition causes mental confusion and nerve paralysis, as well as an inability to coordinate muscle movement. The thiamine deficiency can also cause brain cell damage that leads to incapacitating dementia.

Over time, the dopamine receptor cells in the brain can be damaged or even die, as described in a study from the European Journal of Pharmacology. The result of this brain damage is a condition called anhedonia, which is a diminished ability, or lack of ability to feel pleasure if the drug is not being used. This is the result of actual cell death, and the lack of ability to feel pleasure can last long after use of the drug is stopped. This can then lead to deep depression, including suicidal thoughts and self-destructive actions. However, with continued abstinence from the substance and treatment, dopamine receptors and capabilities can repair and return to some function. One of the most effective ways to aid this recovery process is with an inpatient alcohol rehab center.

Marijuana and Psychosis

The development of psychosis has been noted in some people who use marijuana regularly; however, how this happens is not fully understood. Through some research, speculation has risen that this may only occur in people who already have a predisposition toward schizophrenia or similar conditions.

Other studies have demonstrated a potential lack of damage to the brain due to cannabis use. However, this may not be the whole story. A study discussed by the Schizophrenia Research Institute has found that the hippocampus and amygdala can experience reduction in size due to long-term marijuana use. These two parts of the brain are implicated in schizophrenia.

Effects of Opioids

Depressants like opioids cause suppression of breathing, which in turn can result in decreased blood oxygen concentrations and even death. As explained by the National Library of Medicine, lack of oxygen to the brain can result in brain cell death, and quickly lead to coma. Hypoxia is often an acute condition brought on by opioid overdose, but it can also accumulate over years of abuse of these drugs, causing slow-developing damage over time.

Depending on the type of damage, it may be possible to begin to reverse the damage caused by drug or alcohol abuse. By reintroducing missing nutrients and promoting reestablishment of chemical neural pathways in the brain, early-stage damage can be reversed or somewhat repaired. However, in cases of extensive damage or cell death, reversal may not be possible.

How Corner Canyon Health Centers can help:

closer front view of Corner Canyon Health Centers inpatient addiction treatment center

The best chance for recovery or reversal of these symptoms depends on intervention as early as possible. Recovery from the effects of drugs and alcohol on the brain is most effective if an intervention happens as early as possible. Recognizing that substance abuse is occurring is essential for beginning the recovery process. If the signs listed above are recognized, getting help as quickly as possible can provide the support that can enable the brain and body to recover.

The substance abuse treatment professionals at Corner Canyon Health Centers can help to diagnose the extent of the problem and determine the specific treatment plan that is most likely to help the individual get on the path to healing the damage.

Addiction has no cure, and in some cases, the damage from abuse of psychoactive substances may not be fully repairable. However, professional, research-based treatment programs like Corner Canyon provide the most current, demonstrated abilities to manage and treat the concerns that arise from addiction. With this type of intervention, the individual has an improved chance of returning to a productive and healthy life, along with the ability to manage long-term recovery. Specific treatment protocols available at Corner Canyon include among more traditional methods:

  • DNA testing for addiction, pinpointing genetic variants leading to vulnerability to specific substances and behaviors and recommending nutritional supplements to correct deficiencies and reduce cravings, anxiety, depression, and irritability leading to relapse.
  • Vitanya Brain Balancing, a combination of Neurofeedback and a newer technology that completely assesses the brain for problem areas in neurotransmitters, vitamins, hormones, brain states like ADHD, depression and anxiety, PTSD, autism, learning disabilities, and other conditions. After the brain is mapped structured electrical impulses are delivered non-invasively that begin to restore the brain to enable it to heal itself. Corner Canyon clients have seen some significant results that help them recover more fully, reducing recidivism and enabling happier, healthier lives.
  • Previdence, the use of Artificial Intelligence to assess therapeutic data collected weekly and make treatment recommendations to the therapists at Corner Canyon, treatment that is research validated and best practice.


inpatient drug and alcohol treatment

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Liz Lund, MPA

Liz is originally from lush green Washington State. She is a life enthusiast and a huge fan of people. Liz has always loved learning why people are the way they are. She moved to UT in 2013 and completed her bachelors degree in Psychology in 2016. After college Liz worked at a residential treatment center and found that she was not only passionate about people, but also administration. Liz is recently finished her MPA in April 2022. Liz loves serving people and is excited and looking forward to learning about; and from our clients here at Corner Canyon.
When Liz is not busy working she love being outdoors, eating ice cream, taking naps, and spending time with her precious baby girl and sweet husband.