Heavy Drinking Damages Brain’s White Matter, Study Finds

By Brent McCluskey 12/02/14

The study found that heavy drinkers who managed to get sober still experienced brain degradation.

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It’s commonly accepted that alcoholism damages the liver, but it also degrades the brain’s white matter as well, according to a new study.

The study, published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to compare the brains of 20 light drinkers and 31 recovering alcoholics who drank for an average of 25 years, but who had been sober for approximately five years. The findings revealed that heavy drinking reduces the brain’s white matter and overall functionality.

“There were two key findings to our study,” said Catherine Brawn Fortier, a neuropsychologist at the VA Boston Healthcare System and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. “First, recovered alcoholics showed reductions in white matter pathways across the entire brain as compared to healthy light drinkers. This means that the pathways that allow the different parts of their brains to communicate efficiently and effectively are disrupted by alcoholism.”

Fortier also noted that heavy drinking damaged the inferior frontal gyrus, the part of the brain responsible for controlling inhibitions and decision-making.

“This part of the brain mediates inhibitory control and decision-making, so tragically, it appears that some of the areas of the brain that are most affected by alcohol are important for self-control and judgment, the very things needed to recover from misuse of alcohol,” said Fortier.

The study concluded that light drinkers had better health and brain functionality than heavy drinkers, and that the degradation in white matter worsened over time.

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Brent McCluskey is a Social Media Editor at International Business Times as well as a Jedi with Sith tendencies.  He is also a reader of books, slayer of dragons, and level 80 mage.

“Yeah, I have a broad skill set. If I had to pick between being a Divergent or a wizard, I'd pick a wizard.”  His wizardness can be found on Twitter and Linkedin.