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Alcohol-Dependent Women May Have Decision-Making Difficulty

Posted in Women

AlcoholDependentWomenMayHaveDecisionMakingDifficultyResearch conducted at Indiana University has revealed some interesting findings in terms of how abuse of alcohol affects women. Heavy use of alcohol seems to alter the way the brain switches from one functional network to another. For women dependent on alcohol, this can mean that they have more trouble reasoning out a response when they are in high risk alcohol-related situations.

The study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at how neural networks perform in a group of women with alcohol dependency and a non-addicted female control group.

The majority of study has been on the effects of alcohol dependency on men, or on mixed group samples of men and women. This is one of only a few studies focused solely on women. Since women appear to experience some of the negative physical effects of drinking sooner than men, it’s important to treat them as a distinct research group.

Alcohol-related problems such as heart disease, liver disease and breast cancer all show up in women well before men. With lower body mass and slower metabolism rates, women process alcohol more slowly than men, meaning that the alcohol has more time to damage their bodies. This is why women have lower recommended serving rates. Women should have no more than eight drinks per week. Men, on the other hand, can safely consume 14 drinks per week. And binging is defined as four or more drinks in two hours for women, but as five or more drinks in that time for men.

The subjects in the study were placed in the fMRI and then requested to evaluate low versus high risk alcohol-related circumstances, such as:

  • Low risk: Someone offers you a cost-free drink containing two jiggers (shots) of alcohol along with a safe way to get home.
  • High risk: Someone offers you a free drink with six jiggers of alcohol but no safe way home.

In the control group women showed less activity in the brain area linked to approach behavior and more activity in the area that envisions the future when they assessed the high risk situation. In the alcohol-dependent group all of the brain’s potential response networks fired at once.

The researchers conclude that this indicates a lowered ability to make a definite switch from one network to another. That results in an inability to focus on a single response strategy. The alcohol-dependent females have a harder time choosing a single (or wise) response when they are confronted with high-risk drinking situations.

With the rise of alcohol abuse among women, understanding what areas of the brain are most involved in alcohol abuse can improve treatments intended to help women overcome their dependency.