Brain Has Remarkable Power to Recover from Alcohol Ravages
Excessive alcohol use can literally shrink the brain, impairing memory, learning, and organizational skills. But the brain also can recover most if not all of its capabilities when drinking stops, researchers say.
The Los Angeles Times reported Jan. 22, that studies and thinking tests were used to track the brain changes in a group of alcoholics as they embarked on the road to sobriety. They found that after just two months of abstinence, the alcoholics’ brain volume increased an average of 1.85 percent, while the communication efficiency of their brain cells rose 20 percent. These chemical changes were matched by improvements in tests of thinking function.
Researchers found that the changes only took place among the alcoholics, not a group of healthy subjects who also were asked to abstain from alcohol use during the study period.
“Abstinence pays off and enables the brain to regain some substance and perform better,” said researcher Andreas Bartsch of the University of Wurzburg, Germany. “The adult human brain, and particularly its white matter, seems to possess genuine capabilities for regrowth.”
However, the heavy drinkers who had been alcohol-dependent the longest had the most modest recovery in brain function.
Clancy Imislund, managing director of the Midnight Mission in Los Angeles, said that part of the apparent cognitive recovery has to do with the changed worldview that comes with sobriety. “When you straighten out, you get going again and you get some focus outside of yourself,” Imislund said. Alcoholics, may “appear to be mentally retarded,” he said. “They’re not, they’re just mentally self-obsessed. They need to be pulled out of themselves. And that’s when your cognitive abilities return, I believe.”
Reference: Bartsch, A.J., et al. (2007) Manifestations of early brain recovery associated with abstinence from alcoholism. Brain, 130(1): 36-47. Reprinted from; Join Together Online.