Brain damage can progress during the initial period of abstinence from alcohol, reveals the study published in JAMA Psychiatry.
Scientists at Institute of Neuroscience CSIC-UMH, in Alicante, and the Central Institute of Mental Health of Mannheim, in Germany, have used magnetic resonance imaging to determine how brain damage progresses during the first weeks of abstinence.
“Until now, nobody could believe that in the absence of alcohol, the damage in the brain would progress.”said Dr. Santiago Canals of the Institute of Neurosciences CSIC-UMH in a news report.
The study involved 90 volunteers who were interned for rehabilitation treatment in a German hospital. Neuroimaging study revealed significant changes in the white matter of the brain during the initial six weeks after drinking cessation. But the report doesn’t say how long this progress would continue while abstinence.
The patient cohort belonged to an average age of 46 years. To compare the brain activity of these patients, the researchers recruited a control group involving 36 men without alcohol problems with an average age of 41 years.
“The study has been carried out in parallel in a model with Marchigian Sardinian rats with preference for alcohol, which allows to monitor the transition from normal to alcohol dependence in the brain, a process that is not possible to see in humans,” explains Dr. Silvia De Santis, who led the study.
The study revealed that the damages observed during the period of abstinence mainly affected the right hemisphere and the frontal area of the brain. This contradicts the conventional idea that the microstructural alterations begin to revert to normal values immediately after alcohol cessation.
“There is a generalized change in the white matter, that is, in the set of fibers that communicate different parts of the brain. The alterations are more intense in the corpus callosum and the fimbria. The corpus callosum is related to the communication between both hemispheres. The fimbria contains the nerve fibers that communicate with the hippocampus, a fundamental structure for the formation of memories, the nucleus accumbens and the prefrontal cortex,” explained Dr. Canals.
The nucleus accumbens is part of the reward system of the brain, and the prefrontal cortex is fundamental in decision making.