THURSDAY, Sept. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Long-term alcohol abuse can result in significant damage to the brain, a new study shows.
Researchers report that the extent of injury to the brain can be determined by measuring cortical thickness. The more people drink, they noted, the worse the damage.
"We now know that alcohol has wide ranging effects across the entire cortex and in structures of the brain that contribute to a wide range of psychological abilities and intellectual functions," study corresponding author Catherine Brawn Fortier, a neuropsychologist and researcher at the VA Boston Healthcare System and Harvard Medical School, said in a Harvard news release.
"This is the first study to precisely measure the variation in the thickness of the cerebral cortex, which is the thin layer of neurons that one sees on the surface of the brain and supports all higher-level human cognition," she said.
Excessive consumption of alcohol has harmful effects on both types of tissue that support brain function, known as white and gray matter. Alcohol's most significant impact, however, is on the frontal and temporal lobes -- areas of the brain critical to learning, impulse control and other complicated human behaviors, the researchers pointed out in the news release.
"In other words, the very parts of the brain that may be most important for controlling problem drinking are damaged by alcohol, and the more alcohol consumed, the greater the damage," explained Fortier.
In conducting the study, the researchers compared the high-resolution structural magnetic resonance scans of 31 former drinkers and 34 non-drinkers and measured cortical thickness.
"Previous studies were only able to compare large brain regions," said Fortier, "whereas this method allowed us to look at areas as small as a tenth of a millimeter and compare them across the entire brain. This approach allowed us to identify very subtle but significan
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