Brains of heavy drinkers have been shown to "light up" when pictures
of alcohol are shown to them. Researchers found that a high tech.
brain scanner revealed the urges that can push recovering alcoholics
off the wagon, with the bigger the craving, the more electrical
impulses lighting up in the brains pleasure centre. Dr. Derek
Hermann of the Central Institute for Mental Health in Mannheim,
Germany hopes that the new technique will make it easier for alcoholics
to get the correct treatment.
The 2 year German research project was led by Professor Andreas
Heinz, of Berlins Charite Teaching Hospital and involved 60 alcoholic
subjects who had dried out for a period of between 5 days and
3 weeks. They were put into a functional magnetic resonance imager
and then photographs were taken of their brain when they saw photos
of alcoholic drinks. The reward-centre part of the brain was
activated when the alcoholic subjects looked at a drink, whereas
non-alcoholics did not have the reaction of the alcoholics. The
research is not yet complete but there was a significant difference.
Professor Heinz commented: "This part of the brain is important
for motivation. Its activity is subconscious and creates desire."
He believes the research will mean easier and faster treatment
for alcoholics. "The work so far suggests that the technique can
provide a method of seeing the level of alcoholism in a person",
A further study published in the journal Stroke, found that elderly
people who drink heavily appear to have more atrophy (shrinkage)
of the brain than those who drink lightly or not at all, with
moderate drinkers having overall healthier brains than non-drinkers.
Dr.K. J. Mukamal et al of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre
in Boston studied 3,660 men and women over 65 who had brain M.R.I.s
taken between 1992-1994. The research found that the more elderly
people drank the more their brains atrophied and the process could
result in problems such as reduced hand strength and difficulty
rising from a chair. Heaviest drinkers (>15 or more drinks/week)
were 41% less likely than abstainers to have so called silent
strokes (occur unnoticed, but can interfere with everyday tasks).
Among light drinker (1-6 drinks/week) significantly fewer strokes
were seen, however light drinkers did show more brain atrophy
than abstainers, but less than heavy drinkers.