How the brain compensates for the harm caused by alcohol abuse

Although most of the damage to the brain caused by long-term alcoholism begins to reverse after alcoholics quit, some cognitive deficits will continue to exist even if they quit for a long time.

A study found that even some motor skills deficits caused by long-term alcoholism can persist for a long time after alcoholics give up alcohol. However, the unexpected news is that there is evidence that the brain tries to compensate for this damage by using other areas of the brain to perform these tasks.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), scientists were able to observe brain regions in a simple motor task and found that the brain seemed to “recruit” other unexpected regions to compensate for the damage caused by alcohol abuse.

Brain damage in alcoholics

“We know from neuropathology research that the two most commonly damaged parts of the brain in chronic alcoholics are the cerebellum and the frontal lobe,” said Peter R. Martin, professor of psychiatry and pharmacology and director of the Vanderbilt Center for Addiction. Say. Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, corresponding author of the study. “Rapid self-paced movement activities, such as tapping fingers, are a function of the motor cortex. The motor cortex is the posterior part of the frontal lobe. It initiates stimulation of the muscles of the hand and then proceeds through the interaction between the cerebellum and the brain. Coordination. Frontal lobe.

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“In other words, I infer that the activation of these areas may be abnormal when alcoholics tap their fingers.”

Check brain activity

Martin and colleagues observed two groups of fMRI while performing repetitive, self-paced index finger tapping exercises, alternating between their dominant and non-dominant hands.

These groups consisted of eight (7 men, 1 woman) alcohol-dependent patients who had stopped drinking for about two weeks; and nine (7 women, 2 men) healthy volunteers or controls.

Use more brain

As expected, alcohol-dependent patients performed finger tapping tasks significantly slower than the control group.

Contrary to expectations, slower tapping did not accompany a corresponding reduction in fMRI brain activation in the cerebral cortex and cerebellum; on the contrary, when the alcoholics were tapping by the dominant hand, the cortical brain area on the same side (on the same side) as the active hand Activation increased significantly.

Researchers have found that alcoholics have to use more brains to do fewer things.

“First, we found that, in general, alcoholics are less efficient in drinking,” Martin said. “Secondly, in order to produce a knocking sound, alcoholics activate a larger part of the brain than normal people. Therefore, the results seem to indicate that even if alcoholics recover from drinking, they may show a relatively normal knocking sound. More brains must be used to produce faucets.”

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Edith Sullivan, an associate professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine, said: “This study emphasizes the importance of considering brain circuit operations even in seemingly simple tasks.” “In addition, recruitment is usually Evidence of brain regions not involved in a given task puts a person at risk of inefficient performance on that specific task, other tasks that need to be completed at the same time, and more complex distraction tasks, such as driving.”

Higher brain activity

Martin said the increase in activity in the cortex on the ipsilateral side of the brain was very unexpected.

“Usually, when I tap with my right hand,” he said, “It is mainly my left motor cortex (part of the frontal lobe) that fires together with my right cerebellum.’Ipsi’ means the same side,’opposite’ Means the opposite side. So, we are talking about my contralateral cortex and the ipsilateral cerebellum. The significantly higher activity we find in alcoholics is in the ipsilateral cortex, the one we usually don’t want to be activated. side.

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“This finding is consistent with the idea that different areas of the brain are called into an activity that is not normally activated to meet behavioral needs. In addition, it suggests that even to some extent alcoholics seem to be behaving normally if you improve The level of complexity they are required to execute, they may exhaust their abilities-there may not be more brains to bring in, recruit and compensate.”

The brain gets better in terms of compensation

Martin said these findings raise new questions. “If we study patients as abstinence progresses, will these abnormalities get better? It may be that the brain becomes better in compensation, but it is not normalized, it is just learning how to introduce more parts of the brain. You It can be said that it has learned to reconnect itself.

“Another possibility may be that as the brain heals, less activation is required. This is a true form of recovery. The answer depends on understanding not the percussion itself, but the mechanism behind the percussion.”