ALCOHOL AND THE BRAIN
"Alcohol's damaging effects on the brain," ALCOHOL ALERT (2004) ,
63. This Alcohol Alert reviews some common disorders associated with
alcohol-related brain damage and the people at greatest risk for
impairment. It looks at traditional as well as emerging therapies for
the treatment and prevention of alcohol-related disorders and
includes a brief look at the high-tech tools that are helping
scientists to better understand the effects of alcohol on the
Alcohol, the brain and
"Alcohol, the brain and behavior," ALCOHOL RESEARCH & HEALTH (2003), 24 (1): 12-6. Considers alcohol's effects on the three levels of communication within the brain--synaptical level, systems level, intracellular level. One of the most powerful effects of alcohol is to reduce the pace of brain activity.
"Alcohol-related impairment," ALCOHOL ALERT (1994), 25 PH 351,
July. ["The brain's control of eye movements is highly vulnerable
to alcohol. In driving, the eyes must focus briefly on important
objects in the visual field ant track them as they (and the vehicle)
move. Low to moderate BAC's (0.03 to 0.05 percent) interfere with
voluntary eye movements, impairing the eye's ability to rapidly track
a moving target. Steering is a complex psychomotor task in which
alcohol effects on eye-to-hand reaction time are superimposed upon
the visual effects described above. Significant impairment in
steering ability may begin as low as approximately 0.035 percent BAC
and rises as BAC increases. Research on the effects of alcohol on
performance by both automobile and aircraft operators shows a
narrowing of the attentional field beginning at approximately 0.04
"Alcoholic brain disease, " ALCOHOL RESEARCH AND HEALTH (2003),
27, (2). The entire issue is devoted to articles on the brain and
Barinaga, Marcia; "A New clue to how alcohol damages brains,"
SCIENCE (02/11/2000), 287 (5455): 647-8. Reports on insights revealed
by a study of Institute of Medicine on how alcohol may cause brain
damage in fetal alcohol syndrome. How alcohol works through the
receptors. findings on physiological effects of ethanol and negative
effects of alcohol on neurons--not just killing neurons, but causing
them to grow incorrectly.
Begley, Sharon: "How it all starts inside your brain," NEWSWEEK
(02/12/2001), 137 (7): 40-42. Focuses on research on the neurological
aspects of drug additions. How cocaine, amphetamines, heroine, and
alcohol affect the pleasure center of the brain; Action of increasing
dopamine, serotonin and the brains own opiod levels which results in
fewer dopamine receptors; Inability of addicts to experience pleasure
without drugs; Biological aspects of withdrawal and relapse; Genetic
aspects of addiction.
"Harmful consequences of alcohol use on the brains of children,
adolescents and college students" report by the American Medical
Brink, Susan; "Your brain on alcohol," U. S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT
(05/0/2001), 130 (18): p50-7. Reports on new research may impact the
treatment of alcoholism. Advances made in brain-imaging techniques of
alcoholics; developments of drugs such as Naltrexone which may help
treat alcoholism; How alcoholism may develop; How alcohol affects the
brain; Addictive drugs and the neurotransmitter dopamine and
indigenous opiates. Insets: ALCOHOL: How it affects the brain; When
begin first isn't best; How to help an alcoholic.
Calhoun, Vince, E.; Pekar, James j.; Pearlson, Godfrey Dl,
"Alcohol intoxication effects on simulated driving: exploring
alcohol-dose effects on brain activation using functional MRI",
NEUROPSYCHOPHARMACOLOGY (2004), 29: 2097-2107. "What we found is that
wen people were really intoxicated and in a real vehicle. They
speeded up, especially on corners, were most people slow down, and
crashed more often into other vehicles." When mildly intoxicated, but
below the legal alcohol limit, he said the drivers seemed aware of
the fact that they were impaired and corrected for the deficit. The
researchers also found that alcohol had a profound effect on some,
but not all, brain circuits activated in sober driving. Impairment of
the cerebellum area of the brain, which related strongly to speeding,
was clearly correlated with the alcohol dose. Changes in the frontal
and parietal cortex, which govern alertness and attentions, were
correlated with weaving while driving."
Califano, Joseph A., Jr.; "High society: how substance abuse ravages America and what to do about it," ON THE BRAIN: THE HARVARD MAHONEY NEUROSCIENCE INSTITUTE LETTER, (Fall, 2008), 14 (3). "The time has come for a fundamental change in our attitude abut the pervasive and pernicious role drug and alcohol abuse play in our society and a evolution in the way we deal with it.
Americans, comprise 4 percent of the world's population, consumer
two-third of the world's illegal drugs. The number of illegal drug
users, which had dropped from a high of 25.4 million in 1979 to a
quarter century low of 12 in 1992, rose to 20.4 million in 2006. The
number of teen illegal drug users, which had dropped from its 1979
high of 3.3 million to a low of 1.1 million in 1992, more than
doubled to 2.5 million in 2006.
61 million Americans are hooked on cigarettes
16 to 20 million are addicted to alcohol or abuse it regularly
more than 15 million abuse prescription drugs
15 million smoke marijuana
24 million use cocaine; 600,000 use crack
hundreds of thousands are hooked on heroin
more than 750,000 are methamphetamine users
1 million use ecstasy and hallucinogens
almost 2 million of our children have used steroids
4.5 million teens abuse controlled prescriptions drugs like OxyContin, Ritalin and Adderall to get high
Alcohol and other drug abuse is involved in most violent and property crimes, with 80 percent of the nation's adult inmates and juvenile arrestees either committing their offenses while high, staling to buy drugs, violating alcohol or drug laws, having a history of substance abuse/addiction, or sharing some mix of these characteristics.
Seventy percent of abused and neglected children have alcohol or drug abusing parents. Ninety percent of homeless are alcoholics or alcohol abusers; 60 percent abuse other drugs.
Half of the nation's college students binge drink and/or abuse illegal and prescription drugs. Nearly a quarter of them meet the medial criteria for alcohol and drug abuse and addiction. Cruel courtesy of excessive drinking, each year, 700,000 students are injured, 100,000 are raped or sexually assaulted, and 1,700 are killed by alcohol poisoning or alcohol related injuries.
. . .Now biomedical research and the brain imaging work of Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), help explain why teens who play with the fire of cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana increase the change they will get burned by the flames of heroin, cocaine, and hallucinogens. All of these substance cause an increase in dopamine levels in the brain. As dopamine levels increase, an individual's feeling of pleasure increases. A growing body of science is finding that ll these substances affect dopamine levels in the brain through similar pathways, and dompamine becomes less active in the brains of addicts who use drugs to trigger the releases, a condition which in turn reinforces the need for the drug.
"Cognitive impairment and recovery from alcoholism," ALCOHOL ALERT
(July 2001), 53. "Alcohol use over a period of time, even at low
levels of drinking, can produce varying degrees of cognitive damage,
a problem that is of particular concern because alcohol is so
widespread. Thus, the brain's self-repairing ability may help defer
or reduce alcohol-induced cognitive problems among a large portion of
the population. Second, the brain's ability to rewire itself may have
implications in terms of adolescent drinking. Recent evidence
suggests that the adolescent brain, which is still forming important
cellular connections, is more vulnerable than the adult brain to
alcohol-induced damage. The brain's ability to rewire important
neurological systems might help mitigate a lifetime of cognitive
difficulties resulting from chronic drinking during adolescence, but
we do no yet know if this is true.")
Crego, A.; Holguin, S. R., Parada, M.; Mota, N., Corral, M.; Cadaverira, E.; "Binge drinking affects attentional visual working memory processing in young university students", ALCOHOLISM: CLINICAL AND EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH (2009), 33 (11): 1870-9. Binge drinking (BD) typically involves heavy drinking over a short time, followed by a period of abstinence, and is common among young people, especially university students. Animal studies have demonstrated that this type of alcohol consumption causes brain damage, especially int nonmature brain. The aim of this study was to determine how BD affects brain functioning in male and female university students, during the performance of a visual working memory task. The researchers used event-related electrophysiological brain response (ERP) technique to measure the students' brain response to a visual working memory task. The study found: students who were binge drinkers displayed anomalies during execution of the task, even when they correctly executed the task; binge drinkers required greater attentional processing during the task to finish it correctly; the binge drinking students had difficulties differentiating between relevant and irrelevant stimuli; and binge drinking students displayed less efficiency in distributing attentional and working memory resources between the different information presented during the task. The authors concluded that healthy adolescents and young people who binge drink--even only once or twice a week, and who do not display chronic alcohol consumption or alcohol dependence, "may suffer alterations at the electrophysiological level in attentional and working memory processing. This study is another in the long list of research that shows that binge-type drinking is harmful and can have long-term consequences.
Davis, L. C,,; Hendershot, C. S.; George, W. H.; Norris, J.; Heiman, J. R.; "Alcohol's effects on sexual decision making: an integration of alcohol myopia and individual differences", JOURNAL OF STUDIES ON ALCOHOL AND DRUGS (2007), 68 (6): 843-852. Male and female participants (N = 61) rated their perceptions of unprotected sex consequences, received alcoholic (target breath alcohol concentration = .10%) or nonalcoholic drinks, and completed a risky sexual decision-making task that included a quantitative measure of sexual decision-making cue attention. Intoxicated participants were more attentive to impelling cues and reported greater sexual risk intentions than sober participants. Mediational analyses indicated that attention to cues fully mediated the alcohol-sexual risk intention relationship. Moderational analyses revealed that alcohol's focusing effect acts in conjunction with preexisting individual perceptions to influence cue salience directly and sexual risk intentions indirectly. Findings demonstrate the importance of examining predispositional tendencies when investigating alcohol myopia as a mediating mechanism underlying the alcohol-risky sex relationship.
Emsley, John, "Through a chemists eyes: a dispassionate look at alcohol," CONSUMERS' RESEARCH (July, 1995): 19-24. "When we suddenly increase the amount , by drinking a lot of it, we experience some rather unusual effects--elation, to begin with, but deflation a few hours later. Were alcohol to be discovered today its sale to the public would never be permitted because of its potential lethal side-effects.
"Despite these dietary components, an alcoholic drink is not regarded as a food, a medicine, or a tonic, although in earlier times alcohol was diverted as all of these. Today we treat it mainly as a relaxant. Our body treats it as a poison.
"Effects of Alcohol:
Brain and nervous system. Alcohol makes us feel happier, more at ease with people, and less inhibited about what we say and do. Technically alcohol is referred to as a depressant, but this does not mean that it makes us depressed. It means that is slows down the activity of the central nervous system so that messages take longer to travel along nerve fibers. We become more relaxed and overconfident in our abilities, but also slower to react, and our speech becomes slurred. Alcohol has this effect on the brain because it replaces water molecules around nerve cells, and this interferes with the movement of electrically charged atoms which are responsible for transmitting information along a nerve fiber. Alcohol also slows the movement of chemical messenger molecules which carry information from cell to cell.
"Ears. These are the organs which give us our sense of balance. Alcohol changes the density of the tissue and fluid in the ear, and the more alcohol we take the bigger are the changes, until we lose our normal sense of balance. The result is that we sway and stagger, trying to compensate for the feeling that we are about to fall over.
"Skin. Here it is the acetaldehyde which has an effect, dilating the blood vessels and making us feel hot The dilation of blood vessels in the scalp and around the brain results eventually in a bad headache. Alcohol raises our pulse and blood pressure which increase the sensation of warmth. We can achieve the same effect if we take a shot of spirits on a cold day, but the comforting idea that people dying from exposure in the snow can be saved by a drink of brandy (carried by a St. Bernard dog, of course) is a myth. In fact, the alcohol would only serve to increase the loss of heat from their bodies.
"Stomach. Men digest alcohol more quickly than women because they have more ADH in their stomachs and ADH converts alcohol to acetaldehyde. Consequently men can tolerate more alcohol than can women, because drink-for-drink, less alcohol gets into a man's blood stream from his stomach. Native Americans and Japanese have the same lower level of ADH as women. The male and female kidneys dispose of alcohol at the same rate, so that is not the reason for the difference between the sexes. Tests in the United States showed that when both men and women were given the same amount of alcohol by injection into their bloodstream there were no sex- related differences in behavior.
"Liver. This is the main organ for removing alcohol, but as we have seen it does this slowly. Indeed, people have been known to fail breathalyzer tests 24 hours after their last drink. Alcohol also stimulates the breakdown of glycogen to glucose in the liver, depleting the body's immediate store of energy. Although alcohol is high in calories it does not satisfy your desire for food--indeed, it seems to stimulate it.
"Kidneys. If you drink 250 ml of wine (about two glasses) you will lose at least 500 ml of water from your body as urine during the next two hours. Normally our kidneys will reabsorb and reuse water and are prompted to do so by a hormone called vasopressin, which is released by the pituitary gland at the base of the brain. Alcohol reduces the amount of vasopressin, and so the kidneys fail to recycle water which then passes to the bladder and out of the body. The result is dehydration unless this fluid loss is replaces.
"All these effects are the results of an immediate toxic reaction to alcohol. There are also long-term effects of taking alcohol over many years such as impaired brain function and memory. Excess alcohol can lead to acute inflammation of the stomach, especially by the acetaldehyde formed, which is why for men one effect can be a stomach ulcer.
"The Risks and Benefits
Alcohol can do serious harm to the body. The health risks that a heavy drinker faces are broken bones, obesity, addiction, ulcers, cirrhosis of the liver, brain damage, a particularly nasty heart disease called cardiomyopathy, and possibly even cancer of the esophagus.
"Alcohol accounts for about 10% of the food intake of adults in the United States and Europe. As a food, alcohol has some disadvantages. It cannot supply energy in the same way as carbohydrates, so it does little to help us work or exercise, but it can supply excess calories that lead to weight gain and can be very a expensive form of food. A pint of beer will provide between 140 and 210 calories depending on whether it is mild, bitter, keg, lager, or stout.
"The benefits of alcohol are varied. Some are well known, such as a nightcap of a glass of beer, or a shot of whiskey, to et off to sleep. However it may not be a good night's sleep, because alcohol appears to deprive us of a key type of sleep, the early sleep in which we dream. Continued loss of this essential sleep may be the reason why very heavy drinkers eventually suffer the hallucinations traditionally know as the 'DTs' (delirium tremens), although these re more likely to strike as part of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal."
Flatscher-Bader. Traute; "Chronic smoking and alcoholism change
expression of selective genes in the human prefrontal cortex,"
ALCOHOLISM: CLINICAL AND EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH (2006), 30 (5):
908-15. Alcoholism is often associated with chronic smoking, and both
alcohol and nicotine are believe to act on the same brain region.
This study builds upon previous research that identified four
potential alcohol-sensitive genes in the prefrontal cortex, finding
that smoking also influences the expression of these genes. 30 post
mortem brains were studied. "This study indicates that while not as
dramatics - the effect of chronic smoking on the prefrontal cortex
may be stronger than previously expected. The study also indicated
that the combination of smoking and drinking may aggravate the
negative long-term effects of either drug on the human brain."
Franken, Ingmar H. A.; Nijs, Ilse M. T.; Muris, Peter, Van Strien, Jan W.; "Alcohol selectively reduces brain activity during the affective processing of negative information", ALCOHOLISM CLINICAL AND EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH (2007), 31 (6): 919-927. Event-related brain potentials (ERP) resulting from watching pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral pictures were investigated in a group of participants receiving a beverage containing a moderate dose of alcohol (n=26) and a group of participants receiving a nonalcoholic placebo beverage (n=24). Both early [early posterior negativity (EPN)] and late [late positive potential (LPP)] ERP components were employed as index of emotional processing. The results show that alcohol reduced brain activity during watching unpleasant information in a late stage (700-1000 ms). This suggests that alcohol selectively influences the processing of unpleasant information. The findings are in concordance with theories linking alcohol administration to decreased processing of affective information. The results are discussed in the context of the role of the effect of alcohol on affective information processing, and its relevance to alcoholism.
"From genes to geography: the cutting edge of alcohol research,"
ALCOHOL ALERT No. 48 (5), July, 2000. Explains alcohol's effect on
the brain and brain function, genetics and alcoholism, alcoholism
treatment, and geocoding--mapping environmental influences in
Hommer, Daniel W.; Momenan, Reza; Kaiser, Erica; Rawlings, Robert
R.; "Evidence of a gender-related effect of alcoholism on brain
volumes", AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PSYCHIATRY (2001),158 : 198-204.
(Alcoholic women had significantly smaller volumes of gray and white
matter as well as greater volumes of sulcal and ventricular CSF than
nonalcoholic women. The differences in gray and white matter volumes
between alcoholic and nonalcoholic men were significant, but the
significance of these differences was of a smaller magnitude than the
significance of the difference between alcoholic and nonalcoholic
women. Direct comparisons of alcoholic men and women showed that the
proportion of intra cranial contents occupied by gray matter was
smaller in alcoholic women than in alcoholic men. the magnitudes of
differences in brain volumes adjusted for intra cranial size between
alcoholic women and nonalcoholic women were greater than the
magnitudes of the adjusted differences between alcoholic men and
nonalcoholic men. Conclusion: These results are consistent with
greater sensitivity to alcohol neurotoxicity among women.)
Hunt, W. A.: "Neuroscience research: How has it contributed to our
understating of alcohol abuse? A review," ALCOHOLISM: CLINICAL AND
EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH (1993), 17 (5): 1055-1065. (A review of
advances in understating alcohol and the brain. The research shows
that alcohol exerts actions on volatage-gated ion channels in the
brain, especially on calcium channels and may move the calcium to the
neurons and cause cell death because of excessive amounts of calcium
thus causing brain damage.)
"Imaging and alcoholism: a window on the brain." ALCOHOL ALERT
(2000), 47:6p. Address: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa47.htm
Ingvar, M.; Ghatan, P. H.; Ingvar, D. H.; " Alcohol activates the
cerebral reward system in man," JOURNAL OF STUDIES ON ALCOHOL (1998),
59: 258-269. (13 men, BrAC and 0.07% alcohol on regional brain
activity at read and during cognitive performance. Conclusion: a
moderate dose of alcohol selectively activates target structures that
pertain to the so-called cerebral reward system and the ascending
reticular activating system.)
Kowalksi, Kathiann M.; "Debunking myths about alcohol," CURRENT
HEALTH 2, (April/May/2001), 27 (8): 6-11. Focus is on the truth about
alcoholism in the United States. Effects of alcohol on normal brain
functions; Inability of heavy drinkers to measure impact of alcohol
on the body; Health risks associated with occasional binge drinking;
Interference of alcohol on social relationships. Includes insets
'Waazup' with alcohol and Advertising?: can you spot the myths? Over
$1 billion is spent on alcohol advertising.
Koelega, H. S.; "Effects of caffeine, nicotine and alcohol in vigilance performance," In: J. Snel and M. M. Lorist, Eds.; Nicotine, caffeine and social drinking: behavior and brain function, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Harwood, 1998, 473p. (pp. 363-373). (There are considerable individual differences in the metabolism of alcohol, in time to achieve the peak BAC [usually 30-90 min] and in the rate of elimination. Usually, BAC and performance are non-concordant, that is peak BAC and peak impairment of performance often take place at different points of time. Effects of alcohol on vigilance performance were reviewed by Keolega (1995)). Of 38 alcohol-placebo comparisons, an effect of alcohol on level of performance was noted in 50% of the cases, which increased to about 70% when small-sized samples (n<15)were eliminated.
Ling, J.; Hefferman, T. M.; Buchanan, T.; Rodgers, J.; Scholey, A. B; Parrott, A. C.; "Effects of alcohol on subjective ratings of prospective and everyday memory deficits", ALCOHOLISM: CLINICAL AND EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH (2003), 27 (6): 970-974. The research study included 783 participants (465 female and 298 males). "We found that heavy users of alcohol reported making consistently more errors than these who said that they consumed little or no alcohol," said Ling. "A typical heavy user of alcohol reported over 30 percent more memory-related problems than someone who reportedly did not drink, and almost 25 percent more problems than those who stated they drank only small amounts of alcohol. More specifically, those participants who reported higher levels of alcohol consumption were more likely to miss appointments, forget birthdays and pay bills on time. Deficits in everyday memory included problems with remembering whether they had done something, like locking the door or switching off the lights or oven, or forgetting where they put items like house keys."
"We also found a significant increase in reported memory problems by people who claimed to drink between 10 and 25 units each week in comparison to nondrinkers," added Ling. "This is an important finding, as it indicates that even if people are using alcohol within the limits suggested by U. K. government guidelines, these individuals still report experiencing memory problems."
McQueeny, Tim, "UC Study reveals possible brain damage in young
adult binge-drinkers". This research was presented at the annual
meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism in Atlanta in 2011.
McQueeny studied 29 weekend binge drinkers, aged 18 to 25 who
consumed four or more drinks in one incident for females and five or
more for males was linked to cortical-thinning of the prefrontal
cortex, the section of the brain related to executive functions,
processing emotions and controlling impulses leading to irrational
behavior. The pilot study examined whether the researchers could see
a relationship between gray matter thickness and binge drinking among
college-aged young adults. They found that greater number of drinks
per binge is associated with cortical thinning. http://www.uc.edu/news/NR.aspx?id=13846
Mann, K.; Ackermann, B.; Croissant, G.; Nakovics, H.; Diehl, A.; "Neuroimaging of gender differences in alcohol dependence: are women more vulnerable?', ALCOHOLISM: CLINICAL AND EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH (2005), 29 (5): 896-901. (158 subjects 76 women and 82 aged men) "Women typically start to drink later in life, consume less per occasion and are, in general, less likely to develop alcohol dependence. One could reason that women are less affected by alcohol. But there is, in fact, evidence for a faster progression of the developmental events leading to dependence among female alcoholics and an earlier onset of adverse consequences of alcoholism. This suggests that women may be more vulnerable to chronic alcohol consumption."
"We confirmed greater brain atrophy in alcoholic women and men
compared to healthy controls," said Mann. "Furthermore, the women
developed equal brain-volume reductions as the men after a
significantly shorter period of alcohol dependence than the men.
These results corroborate previous studies that have found other
gender-related consequences of alcohol, such as cognitive deficits,
alcoholic cardiomyopathy, myopathy of skeletal muscle, and alcoholic
liver disease - all of which occur earlier in women than in men
despite a significantly shorter exposure to alcohol." The good news
is that abstinence seems to partially reverse the brain atrophy, for
Monti, Peter M.; Miranda, Robert, Jr.; Nixon, Kimberly; Sher,
Kenneth J.; Swartzwelder, Scott; Tapert, Susan F.; White, Aaron;
Crews, Fulton T.; "Adolescence, booze, brains, and behavior",
ALCOHOLISM: CLINICAL AND EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH (2005), 29 (2):
Moskowitz, H.; DePry, D.; "Differential effect of alcohol on
auditory vigilance and divided-attention tasks," QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF
STUDIES ON ALCOHOL ( 1968), 29: 54-63. (10 subjects. The results
support the reports the Gruner, Ludwig and Domer that alcohol
disrupts the ability of the brain to monitor simultaneously two
channels of information; they found a 16% impairment at a 0.075%
blood alcohol level, almost the same impairment found in this study,
and also reported a performance deficit at blood alcohol levels as
low as 0.025%.)
"Neuroscience research and therapeutic targets", ALCOHOL ALERT, 61
(April, 2004). Through basic neuroscience research, scientists are
gaining a better understanding of how neuroadaptation sets the stage
for alcohol addiction, and how stress can influence both dependence
and relapse. Development of effective new medications for alcoholism
requires a strategy that takes into account the many different
possible interactions of alcohol with the brain, and the genetically
determined variability among individuals.
Nichols, J. M.; Martin, F.; "Social drinking, memory, and
information processing" In: J. Snel and M. M. Lorist, Eds.;
Nicotine, caffeine and social drinking: behavior and brain
function, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Harwood, 1998, 473p.
(315-330pp. ). (When alcohol is consumed at levels which are regarded
as socially acceptable, especially when large amounts of alcohol are
consumed in one sitting, recent research indicates that impaired
information processing and memory deficits may result.)
Oscar-Berman, M.; Shagrin, B.; Evert, D. L.; Esptein, C.; "Impairments of brain and behavior: the neurological effects of alcohol: alcohol's effect on organ function," ALCOHOL HEALTH AND RESEARCH WORLD (1997), 21 (1): 65-66. (Heavy alcohol consumption can impair the brain and other components of the nervous system. Neurological effects can include impaired perception, learning and memory, as well as changes in personality and emotions.)
Pfefferbaum, Adolph; Rosenbloom, Margaret; Deshmukh, Anjali; Sullivan, Edith V.; "Sex differences in the effects of alcohol on brain structure," AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PSYCHIATRY (2001): 158: 188-197. (Conclusion: Alcoholic men and women show different brain morphological deficits, relative to same-sex comparison subjects. However, age and alcoholism interact in both sexes, which puts all older alcoholics at particular risk for the negative sequelae of alcoholism.)
Porjesz, Bernice; Chen, Andrew C. H.; "Reduced frontal-lobe activity and impulsivity may be linked to alcoholism risk", ALCOHOLISM: CLINICAL AND EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH (January, 2007). Study included 57 alcohol-dependent individuals and 58 health adult "controls" from the New York City area. Results showed that the alcohol-dependent subjects, as well as those individuals with high impulsivity, had significantly lower P3 amplitudes (P3 amplitudes reflect level of neural inhibition in the central nervous system - - the larger the P3, the more the inhibition) and reduced frontal-lobe activity while processing the visual target signal. "This is the first study to demonstrate that reduced brain activity in the frontal lobe during processing of target visual stimuli is highly related to impulsivity, regardless of underlying factors, such as neural disinhibition and impulsivity, involve frontal-lobe function and influence a wide range of clinical outcomes," stated Porjesz.
Salloum, Jasmin B. ; Ramchandani, Vijay A.; Bodurka, Jerzy; Rawlings, Robert; Momenan, Reza; George,David; Hommer, Daniel W.; "Blunted rostral anterior cingulate response during a simplified decoding task of negative emotional facial expressions in alcoholic patients". ALCOHOLISM CLINICAL AND EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH (2007), 31 (9):1490&endash;1504. Researchers studied 11 alcoholics and 11 healthy males using fMRI brain imaging to track their brain-blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) responses while they were given facial-emotional decoding tasks. The subjects were asked to determine the intensity of happy, sad, anger, disgust and fear displayed via facial expressions. The results showed that alcoholics were most deficient at recognizing negative emotional expressions. These deficits showed up on the fMRI images in the affective division of the anterior cingulate cortex--part of the prefrontal brain areas.
"The cingulate is involved in many higher order executive functions such as focused attention, conflict resolution and decision making<" said Jasmin B. Salloum. "Alcoholic patients are known to be sensation seekers and are less likely to shy away from signals that suggest danger." Additionally, "Both sensation seeking and avoidance of danger are characteristics of subjects with axes II personality disorders, which may of our subjects had," Salloum said. "The findings in this study may shed some light on some of the problematic and psychopathological behaviors that are manifest in this patient group. It remains to be determined if the dysfunction of the anterior cingulate precedes alcoholism or is a result of long term drinking."
"Now we can begin to understand why patients have problems avoiding dangerous situations and, particularly, why they may not react to the concerns of their friends and relatives: the brain area that should help them appreciate these concerns is functioning at a reduced level," said Heinz
"Furthermore, we observed a normal or even increased brain
response to happy faces. Our group recently made a similar
observation, in that patients with strong brain responses to pleasant
pictures have a reduced relapse risk," Heinz said. "So, relatives and
friends may want to support alcoholic patients with positive messages
that strengthen their self-esteem while being particularly careful,
and even repetitive, in pointing out the dangers of alcohol and
alcohol-associated environments. Otherwise, the patients may miss the
Schweizer, Tom A.; Jolicoeur, Pierre; M. Vogel-Sprott; Dixon, Mike
J.; "Fast, but error-prone responses during acute alcohol
intoxication: effects of stimulus-response mapping complexity",
ALCOHOLISM: CLINICAL AND EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH (2004), 28: 4,
643-649. Schweizer and his colleagues examined 34 healthy male social
drinkers using the psychological refractory period (PRP) paradigm.
Compared to their baseline measures, the alcohol group (N=17) made
significantly more errors during the ascending phase of the BAC
curve, moreover, this increase in errors continued during the
descending phase of the BAC curve. The alcohol group also
demonstrated longer reaction times during rising BAC's, however,
response times returned to baseline levels when BACs were declining.
"Our findings indicate that the motor component of information
processing recovers during declining BACs, but it appears that the
cognitive effects of the drug linger well after motor performance is
back to drug-free levels. The reduction in motor impairment as BAC's
decrease could create the illusion of complete sobriety and prompt
the undertaking of activities requiring cognitive processes that are
still greatly impaired.' A drinker who is about to drive a vehicle
immediately after recovering from a drinking episode may be more
dangerous than while actively drinking because they mistakenly assume
they are okay. Compared to their baseline measures, the alcohol
group made significantly more errors during the ascending phase of
the BAC curve; moreover, this increase in errors continued during the
descending phase of the BAC curve. The alcohol group also
demonstrated longer reaction times during the rising BACs, however,
response times returned to baseline levels when BACs were
"Sobering news," CURRENT EVENTS (11/17/2000), 100 (11): 1-3.
Results of three scientific studies conducted in the United States
link heavy drinking of alcoholic beverages by teenagers to memory
loss. Estimated number of U. S. teens that abuse alcohol; Use of
magnetic resonance imaging to compare the sizes of various brain
regions; Differences in the hippo campus of drinkers and
nondrinkers--smaller hippocampi of drinkers is reported.
Sullivan, Edith, ALCOHOLISM: CLINICAL AND EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH,
Alcohol Compounds Its Damage to the Brain
Patients with chronic alcoholism develop a wide range of brain structural and neuropsychological abnormalities. Deficits in executive functioning - such as problem solving, putting things in order, working memory, and doing multiple tasks at once - have been linked to lesions of the prefrontal cortex.
Researchers know that two areas of neuropsychological functioning commonly compromised by chronic alcoholism are executive functions (such as problem solving, putting things in order, working memory, doing multiple tasks at once) and balance (the ability to walk a straight line or stand on one foot, especially with eyes closed or in the dark). Executive functions are typically disrupted by lesions of the prefrontal cortex, whereas balance and postural stability are disrupted by lesions of the cerebellum.
"The main idea expressed in this paper is that the compounded set
of lesions may work together to disadvantage both types of
functions," said Sullivan. "Indeed, in our previous research we have
reported disproportionately greater deficits in executive and balance
functions, compared with other components of function. A novelty of
the current analysis is the observation that the extent of cerebellar
volume shrinkage, which is related to the degree of balance problems,
was also predictive of executive function deficits. Thus, it may be
that the cerebellum, via brain circuitry, can exert a significant
effect on functions of the prefrontal cortex."
Swartzwelder, Scott, "The Brain: 101", DRIVEN magazine, (Fall
1998). "The developing brain is different from the adult brain in its
ability to change in response to experience. For example, the young
brain appears to be "built to learn." This uniqueness of the
adolescent brain creates great opportunities."
Thompsen, H.; Kaatsch, H.; Asmus, R.; "Magnetic resonance imaging
of the brain during alcohol absorption and elimination--a study of
the 'rising tide phenomenon'", BLUTALKOHOL (1994), 31: 178-185. (The
absorption phase of alcohol is typically accompanied by more marked
behavioral effects than the elimination phase. The mechanism behind
this so-called "rising tide phenomenon" has still not been fully
elucidated. We hypothesized that he rising tide of alcohol during the
absorption phase increases the permeability of the blood-brain
barrier (BBB), thus elevating the free water content with consequent
edema. The resulting increase in intra cranial pressure, combined
with alcohol's direct toxic effects, results in a synergetic
reinforcement of the symptoms of intoxication. To test this
hypothesis we performed proton magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) on
the human brain during the alcohol absorption and elimination phase.
Our results indicate that the alcohol-induced transient opening of
the BBB is a possible factor behind the rising tide phenomenon.)
Volkow, N.; Wang, G.; Doria, J. J.; "Monitoring the brain's
response to alcohol with positron emission tomography," ALCOHOL
HEALTH AND RESEARCH WORLD (1995), 19 (4); 396-300. (Researchers have
used PET measurement of blood flow and energy metabolism to identify
brain regions affected by alcohol and to investigate mechanisms of
alcohol-induced cognitive and behavioral impairment. PET can detect
early functional deficits in the brain before structural changes can
be detected. Pet students have shown that alcohol withdrawal changes
regional brain metabolism in alcoholics in the absence of
neurological or psychological impairment. PET has also document
gradual recovery of cognitive functions with continued
Vos Savant, Marilyn; "Ask Marilyn," Parade Magazine, December 29,
Is there any real difference between headaches caused by a hangover and ordinary headaches? They sure feel different. J. Smitter, New York, N. Y.
Yes. Most ordinary headaches re caused by tense muscles in the head and neck area. But hangovers occur when arterial blood vessels at the base of your brain swell from and increased blood supply, cause by drinking too much alcohol (a vasodilator) and then halting the dilation when you stop drinking. This same kind of headache can happen when you take certain prescription drugs or over-the-counter medications, then stop.
Wuethrich, Bernice; "Getting stupid," DISCOVER (2001), March : 56-63. [New research indicates that teenagers who drink too much may lose as much as 10 percent of their brainpower--the difference between passing and failing in school and life. In developing brains alcohol use over time has been shown to shrink the hippo campus as shown through MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) tests.