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When Will My Thinking Clear?

  • anonymous Asks ...

    I am 43 days 100% alcohol free sober. I am 29 years old and this is the first time I am sober since I was a teenager (a young one…). I need to get started making a life for myself because if I stay where I am (not a good place) I know I will get back to drinking. That is all anyone does here. The roadblock that is stopping me is that I cannot all of a sudden make a decision on anything. This morning it took me 5 minutes to pick a bottle of ketchup at the supermarket. People were starting to stare at me it was so weird but I just felt paralyzed by all the choices. This happens with everything I do to the point that I almost can’t even do anything. Forget about making long term plans because I cannot even make a decision on what to eat for lunch and I can get hung up thinking about it for an hour, just sitting in the kitchen and starting at me options. Honestly I am feeling like I am losing my mind a little bit and it is scary. Is there anything I can do to make this go away?

  • Florence Cameron Says ...
    Florence Cameron

    15 years of alcohol abuse is substantial. After a prolong period of ingesting a toxic substance in your body, especially the caustic solvent of alcohol, the body will inevitably change drastically and not for the better. Because prolong use of alcohol exacerbates the aging process and changes the brain chemistry, you can't expect clear thinking to return after 43 days. Actually, it takes a month or two of sobriety for your brain to "reset" and adjust to not having alcohol. Unfortunately, we must respect the brains fragility.

    Just like a car or any other sophisticated system, feeding it a consistent supply of toxin will damage all areas of the system, including and deleteriously - the brain. The frontal cortex, aka, "mission control" is the part of the brain most affected from chronic alcohol abuse. When this area becomes compromised the whole system begins to malfunction.

    Keep in mind that the severity of your "PAWS" my differ from others, for better or worse. The important think to remember is that if you continue to abstain from alcohol you will have a better chance of reversing the damage done. The only decision and choice you should be making now is a commitment to choose NOT to drink. The problem is when the brain is malfunctioning you no longer have the ability to make good choices and decisions. This is the reason teenagers should never be allowed to start drinking, as the frontal cortex is still evolving. Damaging the brain before 25 years of age is setting the individual up for brain damage, which is what alcoholism is. I invite you to read the following information that will educate you on the time-line that you can possibly expect as your sobriety continues.

    A Timeline for Cognitive Recovery after Abstinence, by John Lee, editor of choosehelp.com

    Researchers at Neurobehavioral Research Inc developed a timeline for cognitive recovery by comparing long-term abstinent alcoholics to age-equivalent control subjects.1

    At 2 Weeks of Abstinence

    The average recovering alcoholic experiences:

    Increased confusion

    Increased irritability


    A decreased ability to attend and concentrate

    Slower reaction times

    A decreased ability to use verbal abstract reasoning

    Decreased verbal short-term memory

    Impaired verbal learning abilities

    Impaired mental flexibility

    Impaired visual-spatial abilities

    Decreased non-verbal short-term memory

    recovering alcoholics experience substantial and varied thinking deficits at 2 weeks into recovery. These thinking problems help to explain high relapse rates during the first period of abstinence and underscore the need for effective compensatory coping strategies (such as those you would learn in an addiction treatment program).

    By 2 Months

    By 60 days into recovery, distractibility, confusion and irritability have disappeared, but memory problems, concentration, learning, mental flexibility, abstract reasoning and visual-spatial deficits remain.

    So by 2 months you can expect to feel quite a bit calmer and more clear-headed, but you will still suffer from significant deficits and you will still need to rely heavily on compensatory coping strategies that reduce your need to make significant or risky decisions.

    By 5 Years

    From 2 months to 5 years of abstinence people make incredible cognitive gains and get very close to a full restoration of normal functioning.

    By 5 years, the average alcoholic may still experience:

    Problems with non-verbal abstract reasoning and non-verbal short term memory

    Diminished mental flexibility

    Diminished visual-spatial abilities

    By 5 years, all other cognitive functions have returned to a normal level state.

    By 7 Years

    By 7 years the average recovering alcoholic has made a nearly complete recovery. However, diminished visual-spatial abilities persist. These seem irreversible.2

    You Can Recover!

    So even though you may have spent years working to destroy brain cells, your brain can still heal, so long as it’s given the opportunity to do so.

    Take-Home Message

    It’s never too late.

    You can someday think as clearly as you used to.

    The significant cognitive deficits seen in early recovery make quitting very difficult, and you give yourself a much better chance of success by learning compensatory coping strategies that make-up for your diminished abilities.

    This website is an excellent source for information about the disease of alcoholism and the post acute withdrawal syndrome, which is a constellation of negative symptoms your body experiences as a result of chronic drinking.

    Jeannie Cameron, MS, NCC, LMHC


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