Scientists discover alcoholism affects the brains of men and women differently.New research from the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System show differences in the effects of alcoholism on men and women’s brains.
Researchers discovered that white matter, the part of the brain that transmits signals, that has been damaged by alcohol abuse recovers faster in women than it does in men. They also found that alcohol abuse destroys white matter in different parts of the brain for men and women.
In the study women lost more white matter from their cortical white matter regions. In men, alcohol does more damage to the corpus callosum. This could produce different problems for men and women battling alcohol addiction.
In the study, all of the test subjects were abstaining from drinking after abusing alcohol for more than five years. The women in the study saw some recovery of their white matter within the first year of abstinence, This was not always true in men. Often times, male test subjects took longer to begin regaining some of their white matter.
"These findings preliminarily suggest that restoration and recovery of the brain's white matter among alcoholics occurs later in abstinence for men than for women," said Susan Mosher Ruiz, lead researcher, PhD, postdoctoral research scientist in the Laboratory for Neuropsychology at BUSM and research scientist at the VA Boston Healthcare System. "We hope that additional research in this area can help lead to improved treatment methods that include educating both alcoholic men and women about the harmful effects of excessive drinking and the potential for recovery with sustained abstinence."
The researchers also found that the amount of time and volume of alcohol abuse was directly linked to the amount of damage to white matter. Test subjects with a longer history of drinking inevitably had more damage but the number of drinks consumed per day had a truly profound effect on women. For every additional daily drink consumed by an alcoholic woman, researchers estimate that woman would increase her white matter loss by 1.5% to 2%.
"We believe that many of the cognitive and emotional deficits observed in people with chronic alcoholism, including memory problems and flat affect, are related to disconnections that result from a loss of white matter," said Mosher Ruiz.
Despite all this doom and gloom, the researchers did find some good news. Both men and women were able to recover at least some of their white matter through abstinence. In men, after the first year of abstinence, the corpus callosum recovered at about 1% for every additional year of sobriety. Women did most of their recovering in the first year of abstinence. After that, the researchers noted a steep drop of in the recovery of white matter.