Lack of mental clarity can be a highly disturbing symptom. The individual may worry that this is a sign that they are losing their sanity. The ability to think clearly is vital in order to be able to function smoothly in the world. It means that people can make decisions and solve problems. When people give up alcohol or drugs after a period of abuse they can find themselves dealing with concentration problems. In most instances these episodes of fuzzy thinking will only be temporary and will disappear within the first few weeks of recovery.
A common complaint made by people in early recovery is that their thinking feels a bit clouded. This is often described as fuzzy thinking or brain fog.
The symptoms of fuzzy thinking can include:
* Thoughts appear to be racing
* Inability to think straight
* Difficulty remembering things and forgetfulness
* The individual feels disorientated
* Things appear less real
* Difficulty making decisions
* Trouble picking up new information or learning new things
* Inability to focus properly
* Some people describe the feeling of a dark cloud descended on their brain.
* Episodes of disorientation
* The individual can have a nagging feeling that they have forgotten something important
* Problems with remembering the right word
* Difficulty sustaining attention for a long period
* Repetitive thinking
There are a number of reasons for why people develop concentration problems in early recovery including:
* Alcohol and drug use impacts every organ in the body including the brain. The body adjusts so well to the presence of these toxic chemicals and when they are removed it takes a bit of time to readjust to the new situation.
* Many substance abusers also suffer from nutritional deficiencies – this particularly tends to be the case for chronic alcoholics. This lack of important nutrients in the body can impact thinking.
* Alcoholics can develop dementia as a result of their substance abuse. If the individual stops drinking in time it should be possible for the symptoms to be reversed – once damage has occurred to the brain it cannot be undone.
* Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol and drugs can impact mental functioning.
* During the early days and weeks of recovery it is common for people to develop sleeping problems. Insomnia can lead to fatigue and memory problems during the day.
* People can experience a great deal of stress during early recovery as they try to piece their life back together. This stress can lead to the symptoms of fuzzy thinking.
* Those who abuse alcohol and drugs anesthetize their emotions. When people begin to experience their emotions again in recovery it can be a bit overwhelming at times and impact the ability to think clearly.
* Some people experience symptoms of depression in early recovery and these can impact the ability to think clearly.
* Those people who are newly sober can experience a great deal of fear about the future. These concerns may interfere with the ability to think straight.
For most people the symptoms of fuzzy brain will disappear within the first few days or weeks of recovery. Sometimes people will experience post acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) and these [can last for as long as 2 years into recovery. The symptoms of PAWS usually peak at around 6 months. Living a healthy lifestyle and learning to deal with stress can help speed up the healing process.
In some instances people will have to deal with long term concentration problems in recovery. Those who have developed alcoholic dementia or brain damage due to drug abuse need to learn how to adapt to these changes in function. The good news is that the brain is great at compensating for damage and so it should still be possible for the individual to live a satisfying life in recovery. The important thing is that they remain completely abstinent from alcohol and drugs so that no further damage can occur.
Fuzzy thinking in recovery can make life difficult. There are things that the individual can do to improve the situation including:
* In many instances these symptoms will at least be exacerbated by nutritional deficiencies. It is important that people return to a balanced diet as quickly as possible and take nutritional supplements if advised by a physician.
* Relaxation techniques can be good for reducing stress and increasing concentration levels. Those who are in early recovery may struggle with meditation techniques, but they will still be able to perform simple breathing exercise.
* Lack of sleep is a common cause of fuzzy thinking. It is important that people in recovery establish a healthy sleeping routine as quickly as possible in recovery.
* It is important that people do not become too concerned about fuzzy thinking so that they use it as a justification to relapse. In the vast majority of cases these concentration problems will disappear.
* Using a journal can be a great help if people are worried about forgetting things. To do lists can also be a great help with this.
* Physical exercise is not only good for the body, but it is also good for the mind. By engaging in physical activity the individual will be helping to improve their own mental clarity.
* Avoiding all caffeinated drinks from the afternoon onwards. It is also not a good idea to drink too much of anything before going to bed to avoid the need to wake up to go to the toilet.
* It is important that people establish a regular sleeping pattern in early recovery and stick to this. This means going to bed at a certain time and getting up at a certain time.
* It is best to avoid napping during the day in early recovery.
* Regular exercise allows the body to work off excess energy. If people just sit around all day it can be difficult for them to fall asleep at night.
* It is best to avoid too much excitement right before going to bed. A good idea is to create a relaxing environment in the hour before bedtime – this could including relaxation music and subdued lighting.
* If people are finding it difficult to fall off to sleep then they are advised to get out of bed and do something else. If people spend too much time in their bed awake the mind can begin to develop the association between being in bed and being awake.
* It is not a good idea to have a TV in the bedroom. People need to reinforce the idea that going to bed is about sleeping and not about anything else.
* Some people find that beverages such as Chamomile tea seem to help them get to sleep easier.
* Relaxation techniques such as yoga or breathing exercise can help people overcome insomnia.
* It is best that people avoid large meals at least two hours before going to bed.
Another reason for why people can develop concentration problems in early recovery is that they feel overwhelmed by stress. There are things that the individual can do to help them deal better with stress including:
* One of the reasons for why people become overly stressed in recovery is that they are putting too much pressure on themselves. It will not be possible for the individual to fix their life in a matter of weeks – recovery is about progress and not perfection.
* It is strongly recommended that people in early recovery avoid making any additional major changes to their life such as changing jobs. This is because the individual will already have enough to deal with as they try to adjust to sober living.
* Breathing exercise and other relaxation techniques can help people reduce their stress levels.
* Talking to other people is one of the best ways to deal with stress. There really is a great deal of truth in the old saying that a problem shared is a problem halved.
* Those people who belong to a recovery group are likely to provide that this is a good venue for venting their stress. This group can also provide the individual with emotional support.
* Hobbies can give people an outlet for their stress. Reading a book or listening to some music can be highly therapeutic.
* Keeping a daily journal is another way that people can unburden their worries and concerns.