Fri. Jul 19th, 2019

Brain damage caused by alcohol abuse found to continue after abstinence

alcohol world cancer day brain damageThe prevailing belief had been that damage to the brain ceased almost immediately after abusers begin abstinence.

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A new medical study has refuted the notion that brain damage caused by persistent abuse of alcohol ceases once an individual stops drinking.

The study observed the effects of alcohol abuse on the white matter of the brain using diffusion tensor imaging. The technique uses MRI technology to detect how water travels along the white matter tracts in the brain.

Santiago Canals, PhD, of the Institute of Neuroscience of Alicante, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas–Universidad Miguel Hernández, Spain, explained the ramifications of the findings.

“Until now, nobody could believe that in the absence of alcohol the damage in the brain would progress,” said Canals.

Changes to the structure of the brain continued 2 to 6 weeks into abstinence but academics were caught off guard by their findings and were not able to establish how long alcohol induced brain damage persists into sobriety.

“The study was not designed to look further in time, also due to the fact that our results were unexpected,” study coinvestigator Wolfgang Sommer, MD, PhD told Medscape medical news.

Sommer revealed that data from other studies suggests that some of the damage alcohol causes to the brain is reversible, and the white matter of the brain shows signs of recovery over time when individuals cease drinking.

“Other studies looked at a longer time horizon and typically found signs of recovery, both of the brain structure and its function. Nevertheless, we need more research to understand what is going on here and what are the temporal aspects of the underlying phenomena.”

The rats used in the study provided an important point of comparison in establishing that the progression of damage to the brain is not linked to methods used to assist alcoholic recovery.

“The fact that the findings in humans mirror those in rats may establish a relationship between the observed changes and alcohol consumption, which is difficult to verify based on human results only, given the large heterogeneity of the abuse patterns, medication for relief of withdrawal symptoms, and comorbidities among patients with AUD,” researchers wrote.

“This result establishes the utility of diffusion imaging for monitoring the brain status as a possible noninvasive biomarker of AUD progression and, potentially, of treatment response.”

We still know very little about addiction and its effect on the human brain but researchers hope this study will help to fill in some of the blanks.

“These types of translational studies are crucial to help fill in gaps in addiction research,” said Marisa Silveri, PhD, director of the Neurodevelopmental Laboratory on Addictions and Mental Health at McLean Hospital in Boston.

“The findings do fly a little in the face of what we know, because when people become abstinent, it usually doesn’t take them long for things like brain chemistry and cognition to improve, somewhat after abstinence. But it’s studies like these that uncover some more micro level cellular indicators that tell us that just because you can recover some function, it doesn’t necessarily mean the brain is returned to a healthy state.

“That’s an important message because people often think that when they no longer feel the acute intoxicating effects of alcohol, that it’s not still having an effect, and we do know from many studies that there are residual effects of alcohol intoxication on neurobiology.

“The brain is a fantastic orchestra of networks, and understanding some of the subtler changes and what they mean is work that is most needed.”

Depression and anxiety are among the conditions that scientists have associated with long-term alcohol consumption.

The study had no commercial funding and the authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

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