A recent study, the first of its kind, shows that science may be making breakthroughs in further understanding the link between alcohol and psychological disorders, such as anxiety and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Recognizing that alcoholism increases susceptibility to psychological disorders, especially PTSD and anxiety, is nothing new. But the level at which alcohol affects the brain is receiving a much closer look. Based on new research conducted using mice, scientists have discovered that alcohol actually rewires the brain, inhibiting its ability to cope with fear and recover from traumatic events.
Published on September 2, 2012 by the journal Nature Neuroscience, the study was conducted by scientists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and UNC’s Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies. During the study, scientists gave one group of mice doses of alcohol comparable to that of twice the legal driving amount in humans. No alcohol was given to the second group of mice. The scientists then used a series of mild electric shocks to teach the mice to fear a brief audio tone.
After the shocks were no longer applied, the mice without alcohol in their systems gradually ceased to react to the sound of the repeated tone. However, the mice with heavy alcohol exposure continued to stay frozen when the tone played, no matter how much time had passed since the shocks were last activated.
The pattern exhibited by the mice resembles that of PTSD patients, wherein initial fear does not subside, no matter how long ago the dangerous or traumatizing situation occurred.
Findings Significant for Sufferers of Alcoholism and Anxiety Inform Development of Alcohol Drug Rehab
People recover from stress, anxiety, and trauma in a variety of ways but the healthy brain eventually knows when to send the message that the stimulus isn’t scary any more. This newest research shows that chronic consumption of alcohol corrupts this recovery process by impairing the critical mechanism that allows the cognitive brain center to control the emotional brain center.
In fact, according to the findings of the study, the nerve cells in the prefrontal cortex of the alcohol-exposed mice had a measurably different shape than those of the “abstinent” mice.
Implications of this study make way for a whole new avenue of understanding about how alcohol can exacerbate PTSD, anxiety, and other psychological disorders. Alcohol abuse propagates a vicious cycle of irrecoverable fear when confronted with certain situations. Because of this study, new prescription drug and treatment possibilities for patients with both anxiety disorders and alcoholism are promising.
A similar study in 2010, using rats in this case, yielded the discovery that alcohol exposure during adolescence degenerates the body’s ability to cope with stress throughout adulthood. Basically, teenage binge drinkers face greater risk for developing anxiety and depression (or PTSD) later in life.
Alcoholism and psychological disorders can be a violent, if not deadly, pairing. Hopefully with the great strides science is taking in the study of neural circuitry and alcoholism, a great malady our society has faced for generations will slowly be cured.
Contact www.drugrehab.org to find out more about treatment for alcoholism.