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Heavy Drinking Could Slow Trauma Recovery

New lab research discovers heavy alcohol use rewires the brain, making it harder for alcoholics to recover from trauma.

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Heavy drinking can help you forget, but not
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By McCarton Ackerman

09/05/12

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Some may use alcohol as a coping mechanism, but a new study shows that heavy drinking could actually make it harder for alcoholics to recover psychologically from traumatic experiences. In fact, impairing the mechanism for recovering from a trauma could actually lead to a greater risk for PTSD, says NIAAA scientist and senior study author Andrew Holmes, Ph.D. The findings were discovered on mice models, half of which were given alcohol equivalent to double the legal driving limit in humans, while the other half were 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 played without the electric shocks, the mice who were not given alcohol gradually stopped fearing it, while those given alcohol continued to freeze in place long after the electric shocks were removed. The findings are similar to what has been seen in patients with PTSD, who often have trouble overcoming fear even when they are no longer in a dangerous situation. “There’s a whole spectrum to how people react to a traumatic event,” said study author Thomas Kash, Ph.D., a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. “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.” The researchers said that the next step is to determine whether their preclinical findings translate to patients suffering from comorbid PTSD and alcohol abuse.

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