Brain Patterns May Help Fight Alcoholism

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A new discovery has been made by scientists that may have an immense positive impact on the fight against alcoholism.

An article on the health website reported that research supported by the National Institutes of Health has discovered distinct patterns of brain activity, linked to greater rates of relapse among alcohol addicted people during early stages of attempted recovery. The research may reveal clues about which recovering alcoholics are likely to kick the habit and which are likely to return to alcoholism, which is an important discovery in the fight to kick alcohol relapses.

Read what the post on went on to say:

“Reducing the high rate of relapse among people treated for alcohol dependence is a fundamental research issue,” said Kenneth R. Warren, Ph.D., acting director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of NIH. “Improving our understanding of the neural mechanisms that underlie relapse will help us identify susceptible individuals and could inform the development of other prevention strategies.”

Using brain scans, researchers found that people in recovery from alcoholism who showed hyperactivity in areas of the prefrontal cortex during a relaxing scenario were eight times as likely to relapse as those showing normal brain patterns or healthy controls.

The prefrontal brain plays a role in regulating emotion, the ability to suppress urges, and decision-making. Chronic drinking may damage regions involved in self-control, affecting the ability to regulate cravings and resist relapse.


The research is particularly relevant because stressful events commonly trigger relapses for recovering alcoholics. Studies have revealed that most people trying to recover from alcoholism relapse at least once before they successfully quit.

The post goes on to explain:

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, a technique that allows researchers to measure localized changes in brain activation, scientists at Yale University compared the brain activity patterns of 45 patients who were about to successfully complete an inpatient treatment program for alcoholism to those of 30 people with no history of alcoholism. While undergoing brain scans, participants were asked to imagine relaxing situations such as sunning on a beach, as well as recent stressful situations. The patients in recovery were then followed for 90 days after leaving treatment to determine how many had returned to drinking.


What the Research Discovered

Researchers found that people in recovery who showed brain patterns of heightened activity in the pre-frontal region of the brain during relaxation were more likely to experience cravings for alcohol and relapse than those who didn’t.

These brain patterns of craving-related activity increased the likelihood of early relapse in drinkers, in fact 8.5 times more and are 8.7 times more likely to relapse to even heavier drinking, whereas low activity during the stressful scenario was also linked to greater number of days drinking after relapse. From the alcohol addicted participants involved in the study, 30 per cent relapsed 2 weeks after leaving treatment and 46 per cent relapsed at the end of one month, while 71 per cent returned to their drinking habits within the final 3 month follow-up of the study.

The post went on to explain:

“The patterns of brain activity we observed may one day serve as a neural marker that could help clinicians identify alcohol-dependent patients in recovery who are most at risk of relapse,” said RajitaSinha, Ph.D., the study’s senior author, who is Foundations Fund Professor of Psychiatry and Professor in the Child Study Center and of Neurobiology at Yale University.

“Our findings may also have implications for the use of medications and behavioral treatments that restore prefrontal function, as they could potentially benefit people at high risk of relapse,” Dr.Sinha said.



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