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For recovering alcoholics, social, emotional impairments continue even after drinking stops

With their drinking problems behind them, studies show recovered alcoholics may still face social disorders or deficits.

According to ABC News, a recent Boston-based study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs compared the brain function of a group of former alcoholics with the brain function of people who have never been alcoholics. The differences were staggering.

In conducting the study, researchers showed the two focus groups pictures of people expressing different emotions. The brain scans then monitored the groups’ respective responses to those emotion-laden photos.

The group that consisted of people with no history of alcohol abuse showed strong responses to the positive and negative emotions in the photos. The former alcoholics, however, showed much weaker responses in their brain scans, indicating that alcoholism may lead to difficulty in identifying emotional facial cues.

The difference between this study and others is that this one seeks to determine which part of the brain is actually changed by addictive use of alcohol, as opposed to how alcoholics’ behaviors change.

“Even though we have known for quite some time … that abstinent chronic alcoholics have cognitive problems, only behavioral studies have been done to show they have deficits in emotional functioning,” said Ksenija Marinkovic of University of California, San Diego.

Though the damage is likely irreversible, this information will enhance the development of alcoholism treatment.

“I think it puts some insight into why people who are alcoholics have these behavioral problems,” said Emory University’s Dr. Wendy Wright. “If you don’t understand where someone’s coming from and what type of challenges they’re having, it’s a lot more difficult to teach them how to cope.”

Still, there is the chicken-or-the-egg dilemma of which came first: the emotional disconnect or the alcohol?

“I think that the changes that were found on the imaging studies in this study would probably be more indicative of damage that was built up over time as opposed to something people were born with,” Dr. Wright suggested. She noted, however, that the size of the focus groups, 15 people in each, made it impossible to determine that definitively, saying, “It would take a lot more patients to confirm that for sure.”

Former alcoholic or not, one other variable in the study was gender, as women from both groups showed slightly heightened responses when compared to men in the groups.

“It seems to us that gender is a very important factor that interacts with personal history of alcoholism,” Marinovic said. “This can’t necessarily be generalized across both genders.”

source:  NY Daily News

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