The physical effects of chronic alcoholism on a person’s body have been well-documented, but a Vanderbilt University study reveals that brain function is also detrimentally impacted.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during a finger-tapping exercise, the researchers found that alcoholics’ brains can perform just as well as a sober people’s brains, but they must work harder to do so. The fMRI found that the frontal lobe and cerebellum activities were less integrated in alcoholic individuals; these are both areas of the brain that can be impacted by alcohol.

The alcoholics’ “injured” brains, the researchers said, must work harder to perform simple tasks than a sober person’s.

“The relationship was weaker in alcoholic people, even a week after they had stopped drinking,” said lead author Baxter Rogers. “This suggests that alcoholics needed to compensate for their brain injury. They may need to expend more effort, or at least a different brain response, to produce a normal outcome on simple tasks because they are unable to utilize the brain regions needed in an integrated fashion.”

Source: Vanderbilt University

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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