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Sep 03, 2012, 03.38 PM IST
Binge drinkers, please note! Alcohal can rewire your brain circuit making it harder for you to recover from a traumatic experience, according to a new study.
Researchers have found that heavy drinkers not only face a higher risk of car accidents and domestic violence, but alcohol also actually rewires the brain, negating recovery from a traumatic experience.
The research was conducted on mice by scientists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and UNC's Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies.
"Basically, our research shows that chronic exposure to alcohol can cause a deficit with regard to how our cognitive brain centers control our emotional brain centers," said study author Thomas Kash, assistant professor of pharmacology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
"A history of heavy alcohol abuse could impair a critical mechanism for recovering from a trauma, and in doing so put people at greater risk for PTSD," said NIAAA scientist Andrew Holmes, the study's senior author.
"The next step will be to test whether our preclinical findings translate to patients currently suffering from comorbid PTSD and alcohol abuse. If it does, then this could lead to new thinking about how we can better treat these serious medical conditions," Holmes said.
Over the course of a month, the researchers gave one group of mice doses of alcohol equivalent to double the legal driving limit in humans. A second group of mice was given no alcohol. The team then used mild electric shocks to train all the mice to fear the sound of a brief tone.
When the tone was repeatedly played without the accompanying electric shock, the mice with no alcohol exposure gradually stopped fearing it.
The mice with chronic alcohol exposure, on the other hand, froze in place each time the tone was played, even long after the electric shocks had stopped.
The pattern is similar to what is seen in patients with PTSD, who have trouble overcoming fear even when they are no longer in a dangerous situation.
The researchers traced the effect to differences in the neural circuitry of the alcohol-exposed mice. Holmes said the findings are valuable because they pinpoint exactly where alcohol causes damage that leads to problems overcoming fear.
The study was published in the journal 'Nature Neuroscience'.
Tags: Binge drinkers, Alcohol, traumatic experience, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, NIAAA
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