A significant portion of the human population suffers from addiction, which is a primary chronic relapsing disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and abuse and by an enduring neurochemical and molecular changes in the brain. The development of addiction is influenced by genetic, psychosocial and environmental factors. Addiction is a different from physical dependence and tolerance, both of which are physical adaptations. Physical dependence is represented by a drug-specific withdrawal symptom that results when the intake of a drug is suddenly ceased, or decreased in dose, or counteracted by an antagonist chemical.
On the other hand, tolerance ensues when exposure to a drug induces changes that result in the reduction of a drug’s effect over time. Addiction is an unpredictable drug effect that representS a peculiar adverse reaction in individuals who are easily affected by biological and psychosocial changes. It should be known that most exposures to drugs do indeed stimulate the brain’s signaling pathways but do not result in addiction. For example, patients who are experiencing severe pain are treated with opiates and become physically dependent and tolerate the doses of opiates, yet they do not develop an addiction to this drug.
Hence, exposure to drugs is only one of a number of etiologic factors in its development. In two independent scientific journal articles (Agartz et al. , 2003; Cardenas et al. , 2007), the effect of drinking cessation on the brain of alcohol drinkers was investigated. The two studies both aimed to determine whether there were significant changes that can be observed when an alcohol drinker stops drinking for a specific amount on time. In one study (Agartz et al. , 2003), the investigation involved measuring the brain volume of chronic alcohol drinkers before and during drinking cessation.
In the other study (Cardenas et al. , 2007), the researchers aimed to determine whether brain degeneration occurs during chronic drinking episodes. Both studies were performed through the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology, but each investigation focused on different parts of the brain to provide explanations for their research problems. In the study conducted by Agartz et al. (2003), the volumes of the grey and white matters of the brain, as well as the cerebrospinal fluid, were measured in relation to different drinking cessation durations. On the other hand, Cardenas et al.
(2007) measured not only the volumes of the grey and white matters of the brain of alcohol drinkers, but also other regions of the brain such as the frontal lobes, parietal lobes, temporal lobes, thalamus, brainstem, cerebellum, corpus callosum, anterior cingulate, insula and subcortex. Both studies investigated the effects of drinking cessation on the brain of chronic alcohol drinkers at specific periods of time. However, one study (Agartz et al. , 2003), only examined acute drinking cessation periods such as 48 hours, one month and two and a half months after the last alcoholic drink intake. The other study (Cardenas et al.
, 2007), examined the brains of alcohol drinkers that have ceased drinking for an extended period of time such as one week, 8 months, one year and two years. Each study showed different results with regards to the brain imaging data they have collected from magnetic resonance techniques. The first study (Agartz et al. , 2003), which involved short-term drinking cessation, reported that there were not much significant differences in the total brain volumes in chronic alcohol drinkers, but there were significant volume differences in the white matter of the brains of the alcohol drinkers that ceased drinking for an acute period of time.
In the other study (Cardenas et al. , 2007), which involved a more chronic drinking cessation regimen, the magnetic resonance imaging results showed that there was a significantly greater recovery in degeneration of the brain tissues, specifically in the temporal lobes, thalamus, brainstem, cerebellum, corpus callosum, anterior cingulate, insula and subcortical white matter. Both studies show that the gray matter of the brain increased in volume upon broth acute and chronic drinking cessation periods.
Both investigations concluded that the brain of alcohol drinkers change when these particular types of individuals stop drinking. Both investigations provide proof that any changes or damages that might have accumulated in the brain during the entire period that an individual has been drinking alcohol can be reverted back to almost its normal neurophysiological state. These two studies also provide straightforward evidence that chronic alcohol consumption affects the mode of thinking of an alcohol drinker through a direct biological effect on specific portions of the brain.
The imaging technology used in the two studies is a powerful procedure that allows a researcher to view particular parts of the brain, as well as measure specific areas and volumes in the brain. These two scientific research articles provide additional information for the understanding of alcoholism. These also provide mechanisms on how to better administer drinking cessation programs to chronic alcohol drinkers. The investigations show that any damages that have been inflicted on the brain of an alcohol drinker may be reversible as soon as the alcohol drinker enters into a drinking cessation program.
The immediate recovery effects may be observed 48 hours after an individual’s last drink. References Agartz I, Brag S, Franck J, Hammarberg A, Okugawa G, Svinhufvud K and Bergman H (2003): MR volumetry during acute alcohol withdrawal and abstinence: A descriptive study. Alcohol Alcohol. 38(1):71–78. Cardenas VA, Studholme C, Gazdzinski S, Durazzo TC and Meyerhoff DJ (2007): Deformation based morphometry of brain changes in alcohol dependence and abstinence. Neuroimage 34(3):879–887.