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Investigating 'brain shrinkage' in alcoholics

ons improve with abstinence," said Harper. "Although working memory, postural stability, and visuospatial ability may continue to show impairment for weeks to months with sobriety, with prolonged sobriety these brain functions can show improvement."

- Some alcoholics can achieve long-term abstinence in spite of persistent deficits in decision-making.

"There is accumulating evidence that the generalized inherited vulnerability to alcoholism and other addictions involves abnormalities of the brain systems that process rewards and punishments," said George Fein, president of and senior scientist at Neurobehavioral Research, Inc., and one of the symposium co-presenters. "People with an inherited vulnerability to addiction, including alcoholism, are much more affected by immediate than delayed rewards. A hallmark of addictive substances is that they provide an immediate reward in the intoxicating experience. When actively drinking, an individual's inhibition processes become impaired and can further contribute to poor decisions and excessive drinking. With prolonged bouts of drinking, dependence may ensue along with neural systems damage, commonly affecting frontal lobe based systems and their functions, which include decision making, inhibition, problem solving, and judgment. This is part of the dynamic course of alcoholism that likely contributes to its maintenance. In the symposium, [we presented] data showing that alcoholics can surmount these impairments in decision making and evaluation of rewards and punishments to achieve multi-year sobriety."

Harper praised the symposium's multi-disciplinary approach to examining alcohol-induced brain damage, calling it critical to solving the puzzle. "The pathologist and neuroradiologist can identify the region of the brain to study, and the molecular biologist can take samples from these regions and look at the genes controlling structure and function and even identify individual proteins that might pla
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Source:Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research


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