Alcoholism Impairs Long-Term Cognition

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Abstracted by Diana Abdi, BS. Mice given the human equivalent of one bottle of wine per day had about 67% impairment of cognitive function, even after six week withdrawal.

Chronic alcohol consumption can cause long-term deficits in learning and memory which can commonly lead to brain damage (2). In the US alone, twenty-five to forty percent of all patients in general hospital beds are being treated for alcohol associated problems (3). Roughly $22.5 billion amounts to the annual healthcare expenses for alcohol associated problems (3) and $175.9 billion amounts to the total annual cost of alcohol associated problems (3).

There have been research studies that show alcohol consumption can produce insufficient cognition in both humans and animals (4). In the June 2005 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, a rodent study was the first to demonstrate (4) that short term drinking has long term effects, such as, deficits in learning and memory. In the study, researchers put 40 eight-week-old male mice (5), of two dissimiliar strains, on an alcohol or sucrose(sugar) diet for eight weeks (4). They followed this diet with a three-week withdrawal period (4). During one of the treatments of alcohol, one mouse died, leaving a total of 39 mice left for further experimentation (5). Several tests were conducted upon the mice in this experiment to study the effectiveness alcohol has on learning and long-term memory. These tests (described in the references listed) consisted of, T-maze footshock avoidance, Greek Cross brightness discrimination, step-down passive avoidance and shuttle box active avoidance (4, 5).

The study concluded three main findings. First, that a consumption period of eight weeks of 20% alcohol (5) generated deficits twelve weeks after the three week withdrawal period, and that these deficits are permanent (4). Secondly, the deficits show to be wide-ranging affecting multiple areas of cognition (4) and third, that these deficits have no relation to the nutritional or sensory deficits produced by the alcohol (4). Some of the tests used in this study such as, the T-maze foot shock avoidance (4), indicate that the mice experienced deficiencies in intellectual functioning (1) and roughly 67% impairments of higher cognitive functioning were present in the mice, 12 weeks after an 8 week withdrawal period (2, 5). 

In transition from mouse to human, the amount of alcohol used in this study for mice, would be equivalent to six to eight beers or one bottle of wine every day for six years (4). This would then produce a long-term memory deficit up to nine years after suspending alcohol use (4). Research shows that chronic alcohol consumption adversely affects the brain by producing long-term cognitive defects, diminishing brain size and effecting regional changes in the brain-cell activity (1, 2). Rodent studies have shown to produce permanent deficits upon chronic consumption for sixth months or more (4). As examined in this study, short-term consumption of alcohol does have an effect on long-term memory.

Abstracted from “Chronic Ethanol Consumption Impairs Learning and Memory After Cessation of Ethanol” in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. Posted March 22, 2011. r/km

*Definitions:

Cognition-mental process, comprehension.

References:

  1.  “Alcohol and Cognition.”  About.com Guide.  6 Aug. 2006.  
  2. “Cognitive Impairment and Recovery.” About.com Guide. 19 Jan. 2005.  
  3. “Health Care Costs of Alcohol.” The Marin Institute. 9 Apr. 2002.
  4. “Short-Term Drinking Has Long-Term Effect.” ACER News Release. 15 June 2005. See About.com website.
  5. Farr, Susan A., et al. “Chronic Ethanol Consumption Impairs Learning and Memory.  After Cessation of Ethanol.”  Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 29(6):971-982, June 2005.  PubMed website.

Alcohol, Mental Health-General & Misc.