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People who drink heavily are at an increased risk for anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder. While they are more likely to experience car accidents and domestic violence as a result of their inebriation, that only explains part of the connection to depression and anxiety. New research reveals that heavy alcohol use rewires brain circuitry making it more difficult to recover psychologically following those traumatic experiences.
“There’s a whole spectrum to how people react to a traumatic event,” explained Thomas Kash, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. “It’s the recovery that were looking at – the ability to say ‘this is not dangerous anymore.’ Basically, our research shows that chronic exposure to alcohol can cause a deficit with regard to how our cognitive brain centers control our emotional brain centers.”
Researchers gave one group of mice the equivalent of a double the legal driving limit of alcohol. A second group of mice stayed sober. Researchers then trained the mice to fear the sound of a brief tone by using a small shock. When the tone was repeatedly made without the shock, the sober mice stopped fearing the sound. The alcoholic mice never got over their fear.
“A history of heavy alcohol abuse could impair a critical mechanism for recovering from a trauma, and in doing so put people at greater risk for PTSD,” said NIAAA scientist Andres Holmes, PhD, senior author. “The next step will be to test whether our preclinical findings translate to patient currently suffering from comorbid PTSD and alcohol abuse. If it does, then this could lead to new thinking about how we can better treat these serious medical conditions.”
Source: MedicalNewsToday, Nature Neuroscience
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