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Heavy drinking may 'rewire' the brain

health-and-fitness Updated: Sep 04, 2012 15:59 IST
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A new US study -- claimed to be the first of its kind -- finds that "heavy alcohol use actually rewires brain circuitry," according to a September 2 university press release.

The research found both a physical and a chemical connection between the abuse of alcohol, high levels of anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder.

Thomas Kash, Ph.D., and his team from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine tested two groups of mice. One group of mice was given doses of alcohol roughly equivalent to double the legal driving limit while the other served as the control group.

Then, both groups were trained to avoid a bell tone using a small electric shock, and then were later exposed to the bell tone with no electric shock.

According to the findings, the mice that consumed alcohol demonstrated high levels of anxiety and stress, as well as showed differences in the prefrontal cortex area of their brains. "Basically, 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," noted the researchers.

The study was published online on September 2 in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

In a similar study on rats from 2010, alcohol exposure during adolescence was found to alter the body's ability to respond to stress later in life. Because problems regulating stress are associated with behavioral and mood disorders, the findings indicate that binge drinking as a teen could lead to increased risk of anxiety or depression in adulthood.