Brain Patterns May Help Predict Relapse Risk for Alcoholism

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Distinct patterns of brain activity are linked to greater rates of relapse among alcohol dependent patients in early recovery, a study has found. The research, supported by the National Institutes of Health, may give clues about which people in recovery from alcoholism are most likely to return to drinking.

“Reducing the high rate of relapse among people treated for alcohol dependence is a fundamental research issue,” said Kenneth R. Warren, Ph.D., acting director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of NIH. “Improving our understanding of the neural mechanisms that underlie relapse will help us identify susceptible individuals and could inform the development of other prevention strategies.”

Using brain scans, researchers found that people in recovery from alcoholism who showed hyperactivity in areas of the prefrontal cortex during a relaxing scenario were eight times as likely to relapse as those showing normal brain patterns or healthy controls.

The prefrontal brain plays a role in regulating emotion, the ability to suppress urges, and decision-making. Chronic drinking may damage regions involved in self-control, affecting the ability to regulate cravings and resist relapse.

–National Institutes of Health (NIH)

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