Heavy drinkers at risk of lasting brain damage sooner rather than later

Researchers at Saint Louis University have shown, in a new animal study, that chronic alcohol consumption produces memory loss and learning problems in very heavy drinkers much sooner than previously thought.

The team studied the behavior of mice that were fed alcohol over a period of eight weeks. The mice were given a beverage that was 20 percent ethanol and after consuming the alcohol for the eight week period they were put on an alcohol-free diet for the next three weeks.

The researchers found that the mice showed evidence of brain damage.

Even after they had been taken off alcohol for 12 weeks, the memory problems and learning deficits remained and the brain damage appeared permanent.

Susan A. Farr, Ph.D., principal investigator and associate research professor in the division of geriatric medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, says the study showed that significantly shorter durations of chronic alcohol consumption than previously reported, produce lasting effects on learning and memory.

In comparison, Farr says the amount of alcohol the mice ingested was the equivalent of a person drinking six to eight beers or a bottle of wine every day for six years.

A person who drank that heavily could expect to experience memory loss and learning problems up to nine years later and possibly even longer.

The findings are published in the June issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.


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