Can the Brain Heal After Excessive Alcohol Use?

Troy Glaus

Do you typically wind down with wine? Crack open a 6-pack of beer at the end of a hard day at work? Or did you overdo it with alcohol in the past? It’s no surprise that excessive drinking is harmful to your brain. But is that harm permanent? Or can you heal your brain even if you’ve been bad to it?

That’s a question baseball World Series MVP and 4-time All-Star Troy Glaus had when he visited Amen Clinics for a brain SPECT scan. In an episode of Scan My Brain with Dr. Daniel Amen, the former Angels’ slugger says he didn’t drink much in high school or college. It wasn’t until he hit the major leagues that he joined his teammates in a culture that encouraged alcohol use. “The game would be over at about 10 PM, and I’d be super excited and wired, and I’d have some drinks to help get to sleep,” says Glaus. Sometimes, he admits, a few drinks would turn into 5 or 6 drinks, and he would be “wasted, pass out, and wake up at 10 AM the next day.”

Drinking not only helped him get to sleep, but it also helped the baseball player deal with chronic pain. As Glaus says, in the major leagues, “Everybody is in pain. We used to say that if you’re not hurt, you’re not playing hard enough.” He and many other players used alcohol to numb that pain. “The game’s over, you’ve iced everything down, and everything still hurts. Alcohol was a reprieve,” he says.

Although alcohol offers short-term relief, it comes with long-term side effects. Years after retiring from baseball, Glaus’ drinking was creating issues in other areas of his life, including in his relationship with his wife and son. He was curious to see how the alcohol had affected his brain and if it was beyond hope.

DRINKING ALCOHOL AND THE BRAIN

Brain SPECT imaging is a brain imaging tool that measures blood flow and activity in the brain. It shows 3 things: areas with healthy activity, areas that are working too hard, and areas that aren’t working hard enough. SPECT scans of people who drink too much typically show markedly unhealthy patterns of blood flow and brain activity.

In particular, excessive alcohol use leads to a pattern on SPECT called scalloping, or overall decreased blood flow and activity. This has been associated with depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ADD/ADHD, and more. Low blood flow is also the #1 brain imaging predictor that a person will develop Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, research shows that people who drink every day have smaller brains. When it comes to the brain, size matters!

For Glaus, seeing his brain scan was a wake-up call. It showed the distinctive scalloping pattern associated with drinking too much. It also showed evidence of past concussions and other concerning issues. In terms of his brain health, Glaus initially thought, “I was worried it was too far gone….I thought there was irreparable damage.” But he was motivated to follow a treatment plan because he wanted to be happier and more relaxed and to be a better example for his son. Two months later, he had a follow-up SPECT scan to check his progress.

What he saw was stunning.

HEALING THE BRAIN AFTER EXCESSIVE ALCOHOL USE

Brain SPECT imaging shows that it is possible to improve brain health even if you’ve been a heavy drinker. At Amen Clinics, before-and-after SPECT scans of patients who have stopped drinking or overcome addictions show some of the most dramatic improvements in cerebral blood flow and brain activity.

After about 2 months of giving up alcohol and following his treatment plan, Glaus’ follow-up scan revealed remarkable improvements. His brain was fuller with more symmetrical activity and better blood flow. His brain activity was especially enhanced in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), an area involved in impulse control, forethought, judgment, and follow-through. Seeing the improvements inspired the former baseball player to keep working on his new brain healthy habits. “It’s nice to see results from the work you put in,” he says.

Along with having a better brain, Glaus is also enjoying a better life and says, “I feel great. I feel clearer. I feel healthier. I have much more energy.” He isn’t the only one who has noticed the positive difference. His wife says he’s like a new person. “He’s loving life, is more excited about things, and has more passion,” she says. “My son and I see the changes, and we love it!”

BRAIN HEALING INTERVENTIONS FOR HEAVY DRINKERS

Interventions that can help heal the brain if you drink too much or have had a drinking problem in the past include the following:

Eliminate the alcohol.

If you’ve already cut down on your alcohol consumption, or you’re completely sober congratulations! That is a huge step to healing your brain. If you are still drinking and need help to stop, look into a brain-centered treatment program.

Investigate the underlying causes of why you use alcohol.

Determine if something such as anxiety or depression is leading you to self-medicate with alcohol and seek mental health treatment for those issues. If you use alcohol to gain relief from chronic pain, consider other therapies, such as hypnosis.

Adopt brain-healthy habits.

Avoid things that hurt your brain and engage in things that help it, such as physical exercise. Every time you make a decision, ask yourself, “Is this good for my brain or bad for my brain?”

Try hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT).

HBOT is a simple, non-invasive, painless treatment with minimal side effects that use the power of oxygen to enhance the healing process and reduce inflammation. Before-and-after SPECT scans of patients who have undergone HBOT show remarkable improvements in blood flow.

Take nutritional supplements and medications (if needed).

Support your brain health with targeted nutraceuticals as well as any prescription medications you need.

Addictions and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

9 Comments »

  1. Does this information also apply to those with wernickes encephalopathy / korsakoff?

    Comment by Eric — March 30, 2022 @ 4:49 AM

  2. what supplements are given for traumatic brain injury

    Comment by Lucille Makris — March 30, 2022 @ 5:11 AM

  3. Thank you so much for sharing that video! I think the question is this good for my brain? Something I will say moving forward.

    I was recommended to you by a therapist that specializes in trauma. My daughter had a psychotic break from smoking pot. Everyone around me told me it was a permanent thing although the brain scans showed her brain was good.
    My daughter has stopped smoking pot because of this and is getting better and better. Thank you so much for sharing! xo Elise

    Comment by elise — March 30, 2022 @ 11:35 AM

  4. This is phenomenal. To see the damage caused by excessive drinking, concussions, and physical trauma — and to see it isn’t irreparable, is so uplifting! I wish I had a SPECT image to see my own before/after story! THANK YOU for sharing this, and thank you Troy Glaus for sharing your story! Would love to see an update!

    Comment by Eugene Moses — March 30, 2022 @ 12:03 PM

  5. My brother used to be a heavy drinker. He could easily drink a couple bottles of wine without any impairment.
    (I, too, can drink a lot without any impairment.)

    I have read that the alcohol still affects the brain. The brain processes the real time effects differently.

    My brother, 59 years old, is in Spain under the protection of the care of the government because of advanced alzheimers. Do you have any contacts in So ain

    Comment by Kenneth Hodge — March 30, 2022 @ 12:47 PM

  6. I’ve never drank never smoked nor drugs however I received tbi july5th 2021 literally Change my life and it’s hard to deal with and I don’t know how much more I can take I’ve gotten no help from now doctor because they don’t know what to do. Physical Therapy makes it worst

    Comment by Pam — April 3, 2022 @ 12:34 AM

  7. Dr. Amen,”
    I am one of your well-trained Certified Brain Health Coaches”. My interest in Brain Health stems from a TBI I experienced in 1979. I was in an auto accident which placed me in a coma. The right frontal lobe was fractured. I worked very hard to both eat brain healthy food, but the accident and subsequent seizures left me both graving Coca-cola and alcohol. I’ve corrected both addictions with three years of therapy, prayer, and will power. My concern is I still drink wine once or twice a week but only ONE glass of wine. Plus I drink only if I am also eating dinner. My husband enjoys wine with dinner on the weekends. Given that my brain suffered a serious concussion that put me in a coma, do you think that even one glass of wine with dinner is harmful?
    Dee Schwartz, Naples, FL

    Comment by Dee M Schwartz — April 4, 2022 @ 2:22 PM

  8. Curious about a brain SPECT scan. How do I go about this and is there one local I can schedule with? Does my insurance cover the scan?

    Comment by Shena Frederick — May 13, 2022 @ 9:29 AM

  9. Hello Shena, thank you for reaching out. At this time, Amen Clinics has 10 nationwide locations: https://www.amenclinics.com/locations/. For more information about our locations, or referrals or resources closer to you, please contact our Care Coordinators: https://www.amenclinics.com/schedule-visit/. They can also provide details on costs, insurance, reimbursement and financing options.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — May 16, 2022 @ 6:37 PM

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Contact Us