Study Shows that Brain Recovers from Alcoholism, Except for Map-Reading

Alcoholics who can stay sober regain most, if not all, brain function despite years of heavy drinking, new research suggests.

"We've looked at long-term abstinence among middle-aged people who stopped drinking in middle age and found virtually full recovery," said study author George Fein, a senior scientist and president of Neurobehavioral Research Inc. (NRI), based in Corte Madera, Calif. and Honolulu.

The findings are reported in the September issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The work was funded by the U.S. National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse and conducted by Fein's team at NRI, a private research group focused on the effects of drugs and disease on the brain. Additional research was conducted at the Alta Bates Medical Center in Berkeley, Calif.

In the study, Fein's group tracked the neurological abilities of 48 middle-aged alcoholic men and women living in the San Francisco Bay area. All of the participants had been abstinent anywhere from six months to 13 years. While drinking, the male patients had consumed a minimum of 100 drinks per month while the women had consumed at least 80 drinks per month.

The researchers compared the cognitive ability of these ex-drinkers to that of 58 nonalcoholic men and women who either didn't drink at all or drank only in moderation. Each participant was assessed for memory, abstraction, attention, psychomotor abilities, reaction time, spatial processing, and verbal skills.

There was no significant difference in scoring, other than with spatial processing, which concerns scalar evaluation of objects relative to other objects, such as reading a map....

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