As with most matters in life, the effects of alcohol differ in men as compared to women.
Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and Veterans Affairs (VA) Boston Healthcare System published a study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, exploring the differences of how long-term alcohol abuse affects the brains of men and women. The study focuses on white matter, what forms connections between neurons, allowing for communication between different parts of the brain, and how it reforms differently during sobriety for men and women.
The research was conducted using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to determine the effects of alcohol on the white brain matter of 42 abstinent men and women who drank heavily for more than five years with the white brain matter of 42 non-alcoholic men and women, then comparing the differences between the male subjects and their female counterparts. Though alcohol abuse affected the white matter of both the male and female participants, the decrease in men was observed in the corpus callosum, while in women it was found to occur in the cortical white matter regions.
In men, the rate of recovery for white matter brain volume in the corpus callosum was 1% per-year of abstinence. For those abstinent less than a year, there was no increase, while women showed both an increase in white matter and a decrease in ventricular volume, which plays a protective role in the brain, when abstaining less than a year. In those abstinent more than one year, rates of recovery continued in men while they seemed to disappear in women.
The researchers found that alcohol abuse decreased white brain matter over time. The longer a person abused alcohol, the smaller his or her white brain matter volume was shown to be. Additionally, the amount of alcohol consumed on a daily basis had a significant impact on the brains of alcoholic women. For each additional daily drink consumed, an extra 1.5 to 2% loss of white matter volume was recorded.
“We believe that many of the cognitive and emotional deficits observed in people with chronic alcoholism, including memory problems and flat affect, are related to disconnections that result from a loss of white matter,” said Susan Mosher Ruiz, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research scientist in the Laboratory for Neuropsychology at BUSM and research scientist at the VA Boston Healthcare System. Mosher Ruiz and Marlene Oscar Berman, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry, neurology and anatomy, and neurobiology at BUSM and research career scientist at the VA Boston Healthcare System, led the research team that conducted the study.
Mosher Ruiz told Janice Wood of PsychCentral, “These findings preliminarily suggest that restoration and recovery of the brain’s white matter among alcoholics occurs later in abstinence for men than for women. We hope that additional research in this area can help lead to improved treatment methods that include educating both alcoholic men and women about the harmful effects of excessive drinking and the potential for recovery with sustained abstinence.”
Previous studies have shown differences in the effect of alcohol abuse on the heart and liver, with women being more vulnerable to developing heart disease, alcoholic hepatitis, and death from cirrhosis than men. Women also absorb more alcohol in the blood than men after consuming equivalent amounts of alcohol, and eliminate alcohol from the blood faster.
By Greg L.
- Rattue, Petra. “Long-Term Alcohol Abuse Affects Men And Women Differently.” Medical News Today. 10 August 2012. Web. 17 August 2012.
- Wood, Janice. “Alcohol Affects Men’s and Women’s Brains Differently.” PsychCentral. 11 August 2012. Web. 17 August 2012.
- Alcohol Alert. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. National Institute of Health. December 1999. Web. 17 August 2012.
Women and Alcohol. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. National Institute of Health. February 2011. Web. 17 August 2012.
Filed under: Featured, Research · Tags: Alcohol Abuse, alcoholism, brain, cognitive deficits, emotional deficits, gender difference, long-term alcohol abuse, neuropsychology, psychology, Recovery, Research, Susan Mosher Ruiz, VA, Veterans Affairs, white matter, women and men