Scientists Find Brain Link Between Alcoholism and Anxiety

New research by scientists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the University of North Carolina's Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies asserts that heavy alcohol consumption could be rewiring the brain and making us more susceptible to future anxiety problems.

Their findings, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, claim that alcoholism makes recovery from psychological trauma more difficult compared to non-alcoholics. Using mouse models, the scientists were able to demonstrate that mice with heavy exposure to alcohol had trouble overcoming electric shocks, even well after the shocks were being delivered—-much in the way post-traumatic stress disorder causes sufferers to perceive fear when it is no longer there.

"Our research shows that chronic exposure to alcohol can cause a deficit with regard to how our cognitive brain centers control our emotional brain centers," said author Thomas Kash, an assistant professor of pharmacology at UNC.

"A history of heavy alcohol abuse could impair a critical mechanism for recovering from trauma and, in doing so, put people at greater risk for PTSD," said NIAAA scientist and lead author Andrew Holmes, PhD. He said that if their findings turn out to be true among patients diagnosed with PTSD and alcoholism, they "could lead to new thinking about how we can better treat these serious medical conditions."

The value of the research is in part found in a greater understanding of the interplay between alcohol and anxiety down to the molecular level: In sum, these breakthroughs could open up newly targeted, pharmacological treatment pathways for these patients.

Source: Medical News Today
Photo: Pixabay

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