The harmful effects of alcohol on the brain continue for at least several weeks after the last use. An international team of scientists from Spain, Germany and Italy came to this disappointing conclusion.
Having studied the changes that occur under the influence of alcohol in the white matter of the brain, scientists found that nerve cells continue to degrade even six weeks after completely stopping drinking.
“No one could believe that in the absence of alcohol, the brain damage caused by it would progress,” said the study's lead author, professor at the University of Barcelona, Santiago Canals.
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The results of the experiment are published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
After examining the MRI scans of 90 men previously hospitalized for excessive drinking, the researchers found that the degenerative changes in the patients' brains continued - despite the fact that they had not consumed a single drop of alcohol for several weeks.
To better understand the nature of these changes, the experiment was carried out on rats. After accustoming them to drinking, the scientists stopped giving them alcohol - but continued to observe the ongoing degenerative changes in the brains of animals.
Two parts of the brain are most affected: the corpus callosum (which connects the cerebral hemispheres) and the hippocampus, which is responsible for the formation of emotions, learning and long-term memory functioning.
Earlier studies have already shown that excessive alcohol consumption causes serious harm to the hippocampus. This area of the brain shrinks, which leads to problems with both memorizing and retrieving information already stored in the brain.
However, until now, it was not known whether the hippocampus returns to normal functioning after a person completely stops drinking.
Based on the results of the current study, alcohol continues to have a negative effect on brain activity even after six weeks of completely abstaining from alcohol - and possibly much longer.