What Are the Latest Discoveries on Alcoholism Studies?

What Are The Latest Discoveries On Alcoholism Studies?

The latest string of facts to emerge regarding alcoholism is staggering. A National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism study of over 43,000 American adults found that more Americans develop alcoholism each year than any other mental disorder.

Over a one year period, nearly 2% became alcoholics in need of alcohol treatment and an additional 1% showed signs of regular binge drinking. The damage is believed to exceed over 0 million annually and contributes to nearly half of all car accidents, claiming 100,000 lives.

“Alcohol can change gene expression in the brain. This is believed to be responsible for many of the hallmarks of addiction, such as tolerance, physical dependence and cravings, as well as the consequences of chronic alcoholism, such as neurotoxicity (brain damage),” said Dr. R. Adron Harris, director of UT Austin’s Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research.

Just as a computer virus corrupts the system, alcohol consumption can also tinker with proteins and regions of the brain, leaving its mark. In his study, he found that 163/4,000 brain tissue genes (4%) were found to differ by 40% or more between alcoholics and non-alcoholics.

The genes most susceptible to change were the sensitive “white matter” called myelin. Myelin is the insulation between the brain’s information-carrying cells, which would explain why cognitive deficiency is one of the effects of alcohol.

One way researchers are looking into addiction treatment for alcoholism is by studying the way alcohol affects the inner-workings of the brain. For instance, researchers at the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in Bethesda, Maryland recently tested twelve volunteers and compared brain activity using magnetic resonance imaging.

The study found that alcohol use caused volunteers to be unable to identify images of people’s faces who exhibited fear. The amygdala, which registers emotional reactions in the brain, lit up when fearful faces were shown to the sober volunteers; but after modest alcohol consumption, the threat-detecting brain circuits were significantly dulled.

“At one end of the spectrum, less anxiety might enable us to approach a new person at a party,” explains Marina Wolf at the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science. “But at the other end of the spectrum, we may fail to avoid an argument or a fight,” she said. She added that the study results make a compelling case against those individuals who feel that the tendency toward poor decision making after alcohol use “doesn’t apply” to them.

The scary thing about alcoholism is that one can actually die from alcohol related withdrawal symptoms, if not properly managed. Since heavy alcohol consumption reduces GABA neuroinhibitor production, there can be an uncontrolled firing of the synapses — resulting in hallucinations, shakes, convulsions, seizures and heart failure. This is certainly not the case for everyone who likes to pound a few drinks now and then, but for the daily, heavy binge drinker, a carefully monitored detoxification program is crucial.

Learn more about alcoholism from Mike Selvon’s portal, and leave a comment at our recovery from alcoholism blog.

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