Neurocognitive deficits in alcoholics and social drinkers: a continuum?


    Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 1998 Jun;22(4):954-61. Related Articles, Links

    Neurocognitive deficits in alcoholics and social drinkers: a continuum?

    Parsons OA.

    Oklahoma Center for Alcohol and Drug-Related Studies, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City 73104, USA.

    Our research program has investigated neurocognitive deficits in sober alcoholics for several decades. We have shown that both male and female adult alcoholics--compared with peer nonalcoholic controls--have deficits on tests of learning, memory, abstracting, problem-solving, perceptual analysis and synthesis, speed of information processing, and efficiency.

    The deficits are equivalent to those found in patients with known brain dysfunction of a mild to moderate nature.

    Attempts to identify factors other than alcoholism to account for these differences have been unsuccessful.

    Results of recent studies support the hypothesis of a continuum of neurocognitive deficits ranging from the severe deficits found in Korsakoff patients to moderate deficits found in alcoholics and moderate to mild deficits in heavy social drinkers (more than 21 drinks/week).

    Individual differences in the presence and magnitude of neurocognitive deficits in social drinkers and alcoholics are hypothesized to be due, in part, to individual differences in vulnerability of the brain to alcohol or its metabolites' toxic effects.
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  3. by   pickledpepperRN

    Meyerhoff said that the cumulative lifetime alcohol consumption among the heavy drinkers was about 60 percent of that typically found among treatment populations. Nonetheless, they found that frontal white matter NAA - generally considered to be a marker of neuronal damage - was lower in heavy drinkers than light drinkers, and was associated with lower executive and working memory functions.
    "Although the men and women who drank heavily for many years demonstrated fewer changes in brain metabolites than do alcoholics in treatment," he said, "the abnormalities that we found are nonetheless associated with lower brain function." Lower cognitive functioning, he said, can affect daily living routines in not-so-obvious ways - the changes may be too gradual or too weak to be noticeable - but they may still interfere with basic cognitive processes such as decision making, planning, regulation of emotion and motivation, memory, and motor control. "
    Meyerhoff said some of the behaviors that could be associated with the metabolite changes include the inability to apply consequences from past actions, difficulties with abstract concepts of time and money, difficulties with storing and retrieving information, and frequently needing external motivators.

    Both Martin and Meyerhoff said the study's findings of chemical abnormalities in the brains of heavy social drinkers provide evidence of brain impairment, even if the drinkers cannot see it themselves.

    "Our major aim was to detect early adverse effects of alcohol drinking on brain function and to provide useful information to the heavy alcohol drinker, family practitioners, and society," said Meyerhoff. "Our message is: 'Drink in moderation! Heavy drinking damages your brain ever so slightly, reducing your cognitive functioning in ways that may not be readily noticeable. To be safe, don't overdue it.'" He added that for most adults, moderate alcohol use - up to two drinks per day for men, and one drink per day for women and older people - causes few if any problems.