Sunday, December 17, 2006

Abstinence regenerates alcoholic brain

The brains of alcoholics can show measurable improvement in volume, chemical activity, and functionality after as little as seven weeks of abstinence, a new study published in the journal Brain today reveals.

Researchers from Germany, the UK, Switzerland and Italy collaborated on a study of ten men and five women alcoholics who had achieved an average of 38 days abstinence at the time of the study. Alcoholics who used psychoactive medications or who smoked more than 10 cigarettes a day after they stopped drinking were excluded from the data. Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and proton MR spectroscopy, laboratory tests for levels of brain chemicals that measure nerve integrity and repair, and performance tests for attention and concentration.

Brain volume increased an average of two percent, researchers found, and there were major increases in the substances that measured nerve health and regrowth. There were also improvements in performance. However, in one subject, who had the longest history of alcoholism in the study (more than 25 years), the evidence of brain recovery was not visible within the relatively short time span of the study.

The leader of the research, Dr Andreas Bartsch from the University of Wuerzburg, Germany, said:
"The core message from this study is that, for alcoholics, abstinence pays off and enables the brain to regain some substance and to perform better. However, our research also provides evidence that the longer you drink excessively, the more you risk losing this capacity for regeneration. Therefore, alcoholics must not put off the time when they decide to seek help and stop drinking; the sooner they do it, the better."

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