Early recovery can be a difficult time for people as they settle into their new life. For the first few weeks they may have to deal with physical withdrawal symptoms. There will also be the huge challenge of facing life without the assistance of chemicals. The symptoms that can be particularly upsetting for people are the mental ones such as problems with memory. The individual may worry that they will never experience mental clarity again. For most people this fuzzy brain will only be a temporary problem.
One of the symptoms that people complain about during the first few weeks of their recovery is the feeling that their brain is full of wool. Their thinking feels fuzzy, and they can have problems remembering things. These symptoms occur for a number of reasons including:
* The brain has adapted in order to survive the alcohol and drug abuse. It can take a bit of time to readjust to the new situation.
* When people first become sober they may be suffering from nutritional deficiencies. These can lead to mental fogginess and other problems
* Moving from addiction to recovery is an adjustment and people can sometimes feel a bit overwhelmed by it all.
* Those people who have been addicted for many years will have being chemically numbing their emotions. When their emotions come alive again it can lead to great mental highs and lows.
* Some individuals will have suffered from brain damage as a result of their substance abuse.
* In some instances these symptoms may be as a result of a dual diagnosis.
* When people become sober they are faced with a new reality. It takes time to adjust to this new life.
After the initial period of withdrawal symptoms has come to an end people can continue to experience problems. One of the most common things that people complain about is continued fuzzy thinking and memory problems. This is referred to as post acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS). As well as problems with memory there are other symptoms associated with PAWS including:
* Problems with sleep. This can mean that the individual needs to sleep at odd times of the day or that they are unable to sleep at night.
* The individual may find that they are highly emotional – a minor inconvenience can feel like the end of the world.
* Inability to concentrate.
* Repetitive thinking. The individual may feel like their thoughts are out of control and just going around in circles.
* The individual may struggle to solve problem and puzzles that previously would have been easy to solve.
The symptoms of PAWS can last for as long as six months after people have entered recovery.
One of the reasons for why people will experience memory problems in early recovery is that they are suffering from nutritional deficiencies. These occur because the individual will have missed out on a balanced diet as a result of their addiction. Some addicts find it hard to eat and use drugs and when they can eat they turn to junk food. Alcoholics may end up replacing food with the empty calories found in alcoholic beverages. This means that these individuals miss out on important nutrients which lead to problems with mental clarity. In most instances these symptoms will disappear once the individual returns to a balanced diet.
Some chronic alcoholics end up doing severe damage to their brain as a result of nutritional deficiencies – in this case lack of Vitamin B1. Alcoholic dementia is actually a result of two condition: Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff syndrome. These two sets of symptoms tend to occur together so the usually alcoholic dementia is referred to as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. Alcoholic dementia is also sometimes called wet brain. The symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome can include:
* Difficulty remembering things
* False memories and confabulation
* Inability to form new memories
* Loss of memories
* Agitation and paranoia
* Mental confusion
* Lack of muscle coordination
* Involuntary eye movements
The symptoms of alcoholic dementia are a result of damage to the brain. Once this damage has occurred it cannot be repaired but treating the nutritional deficiencies will prevent any further deterioration. It is also possible to reverse the symptoms if the condition is treated early enough. It may take a bit for the individual to regain mental clarity, but they can then be able to enjoy a full and rewarding life in recovery. It will be vital that this individual remains abstinent from alcohol for the rest of their life – they will also need to be careful to eat a balanced diet.
One of the reasons why some people are dealing with problems with mental clarity is that they are suffering from a dual diagnosis. This means that they have a mental health problem alongside their addiction, and they may not even be aware of it. A dual diagnosis can include conditions such as:
* Anxiety disorder
* Panic disorder
* Borderline personality
In some instances the individual will have developed this other mental health problem as a result of substance abuse. In order cases it will have been the symptoms of these conditions that drove them towards substance abuse in the first place – they were self medicating their problems.
These memory problems that people experience in recovery can be extremely worrying. The individual may feel embarrassed by them and wonder if things will ever get better. The dangers associated with memory problems in recovery include:
* The individual may decide that these symptoms mean that recovery itself is not a satisfying option. They may use it as justification to relapse back to their addiction.
* The individual may turn to other maladaptive behaviors as a means to escape their problems with fuzzy thinking.
* The individual may fail to do the things they need to do in order to stay sober and build a good life away from addiction.
* People may feel disillusioned and bitter about their problems. Even if they remain physically sober they could still develop dry drunk syndrome.
* If people are suffering from a dual diagnosis they will need to get this other condition treated or they will struggle to find happiness in recovery.
There are steps that people can take to resolve their memory problems in recovery such as:
* The most important thing is that the individual remains abstinent from alcohol or drugs. If they relapse they will only have further mental and physical problems to look forward to.
* In many instances these memory problems will be as a result of nutritional deficiencies. It is crucial that people return to a balanced diet as soon as possible in recovery.
* Exercise can help people feel mentally as well as physically better in recovery.
* Meditation is great for improving mental clarity, but those who have poor concentration levels may struggle to sit down and meditate. One solution is dynamic meditation or it is also possible to get similar benefits from Tai Chi or yoga.
* If people continue to have memory problems in recovery it is strongly suggested that they speak to their physician about it. They need to find out if they are dealing with a dual diagnosis or other problems caused by their former substance abuse.
* It is vital that people do not allow these problems with their memory to knock them off course. In the vast majority of cases things will improve over time.