|Alcohol damages women's brains faster than men's
[ 2007-04-29 10:00 ]
Alcoholic drinks are consumed in almost every country around the world.
And statistics from the World Health Organization indicate that in many
countries, the incidence of alcoholism is on the rise -- and that drinking
is a problem for both men and women.
Researchers are slowly learning about the physical effects of alcohol
on the brain. They're finding that parts of the brain actually change over
time when exposed to high levels of alcohol. Barbara Flannery from the
Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina wanted to explore how those
changes affected alcoholics' cognitive abilities, specifically, what are
known as "higher order functions."
Flannery explains, "these can be conceived as self-regulatory
supervisory functions. It has to do with being able to function in a
purposeful manner, on a day-to-day basis, interpersonal relationships,
being able to interpret social cues and so forth."
She studied about 100 Russian men and women, giving them tasks that
tested their higher order functions. "What we found was that the
alcoholics in general, both males and females, performed more poorly on
our set of executive cognitive tasks than did the controls." The
researchers also compared the performance of men and women. "When we
looked at just the alcohol dependent males and females," she says, "there
were differences in how they responded to these tasks."
Flannery says part of the problem for women is that they respond
differently to alcohol than men. "The negative consequences of alcohol
abuse occur more rapidly in women than they do in men, and they do so in
the situation where not only is the duration of the drinking less but the
quantity of drinking is less." She says this is because women metabolize
alcohol differently than men. Her study also indicates that women drinkers
are subject to physical changes in the brain more quickly than men.
Her research appears in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and