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Detox Carries Its Own Cost

Repeated withdrawals from alcohol can impair cognitive function, study finds

THURSDAY, Oct. 16, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- People who have repeated alcohol detoxifications can suffer damage to the frontal lobes of their brains, resulting in a decline in cognitive function.

That's what a study in the October issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research found.

"Results from this study support previous findings of impaired frontal-lobe function in alcoholics. Our study adds to that by showing that such impairments can be found also in non-severe alcoholics. But its major contribution to the field is that the number of detoxifications that patients experience contributes significantly to these impairments," first author Theodora Duka, associate professor at the University of Sussex in England, says in a prepared statement.

The study included 85 volunteers divided into two groups: 42 abstinent alcoholics in patient treatment, and 43 social drinkers.

The first group was further divided into those who'd had fewer than two medically supervised detoxifications and those who had gone through at least two detoxifications.

All the volunteers completed four tasks designed to measure the brain's executive function, which supervises the production and execution of responses to demands from the surrounding environment.

Results indicated that repeated withdrawals from alcohol are associated with increased impairment of cognitive function, specifically frontal-lobe damage.

"Compared to social drinkers, the alcoholics were impaired in all the tasks except for the color-naming task. The age that patients started drinking, the amount of alcohol they used to drink up to the last six months before treatment, appeared also to play a role," Duka says.

"Only measures of the delay task, the ability to wait before a response in order to receive an award, appeared to depend solely on the number of detoxifications," she says.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about alcoholism.

SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, news release, Oct. 14, 2003
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