Chronic heavy drinking can destroy a man’s sense of irony and is ability to empathise. A new study shows that chronic alcohol abuse damages the parts of the brain that decode other people’s emotions and help us understand humour.
There have been many studies in this area and they have found that the damage done by alcohol abuse can make it difficult for people to identify emotions when they are interacting with others. This means some alcoholics may find it hard to distinguish between anger and sadness. They may even mistake emotions like happiness for negative emotions.
“Chronic alcohol abuse seems to have effects on the perception and decoding of emotional expressions,” says Simona Amenta, a post-doctoral researcher at Italy’s University of Milano-Bicocca and a lecturer at the Catholic University of Milan. “It has been associated with … deficits in emotion recognition and verbalization, leading to difficulties in distinguishing and comprehending people’s emotional states.”
Amenta and her fellow researchers studied 22 men who were all participating in alcohol detoxification. These men were compared and tested against 22 non-alcoholic men. When shown examples of irony, and different emotional states, the alcoholic men were markedly worse at recognising irony. In total, they were only able to identify irony 63% of the time. The non-alcoholics were able to identify irony 90% of the time.
This means alcoholic men will have a much more difficult time registering emotion. Worse yet, they will often misinterpret others emotions.
There is no word yet on whether alcohol addicts are able to regain their ability to register irony and emotion. Long term sobriety may be able to help repair the damage but this is just a hope.
Scientists believe that these new findings are just more evidence of how alcohol changes the wiring of the brain. These new findings could explain the social problems caused by alcohol abuse including fights, arguments and aggressive behaviour.