Recovery From Alcohol Use Disorder: Long-term Abstinence Accompanied by Brain Changes and Emotional Improvements

from alcohol use disorder (AUD) have been clarified in a new study in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. AUD recovery was already known to be multidimensional, with behavioral changes – ranging from stopping heavy drinking to complete abstinence – accompanied by partial reversal of alcohol-induced brain damage. While the relationship between early abstinence (the “withdrawal phase”), negative mood, and sex-specific effects of alcohol on the brain’s “reward system” have been well-established, a growing body of evidence is revealing that AUD individuals in long-term abstinence (greater than five years) report higher levels of subjective happiness and emotional well-being, as well as a significantly lower risk of relapse. Yet, the way these long-term behavioral and emotional improvements relate to underlying brain changes, and potentially differ between men and women, remains unknown. To better understand and characterize these aspects of the recovery process, the study’s res

Re-Train Your Brain: Online intervention tackles co-occurring alcohol misuse and social anxiety in young adults

Clinical testing of an online cognitive training intervention for co-occurring alcohol misuse and social anxiety will soon be underway, following successful evaluation of a demo program in young adults. In a study reported in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, researchers assessed the demo’s acceptability and ease-of-use among service providers and target users in Sydney, Australia, with the feedback used to develop and refine the full program.

Reducing Drinking Among US Veterans with Unhealthy Alcohol Use Might Improve Chronic Pain Symptoms and Reduce Other Substance Use

US veterans with unhealthy alcohol use who reduce their drinking may gain some improvement in chronic pain symptoms and use of other substances, according to a study in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. Hazardous drinking is common in the US, and frequently co-occurs with chronic pain, depression and anxiety, and with tobacco, cannabis or cocaine use. Many people use alcohol and other substances to mask or self-manage pain and psychiatric symptoms, although there is little evidence to support such use. If, conversely, a reduction in drinking (or use of treatment for alcohol misuse) were to benefit co-occurring conditions or substance use, this could support an integrated approach to screening or treatment. The new analysis assessed the impact of drinking reduction on improvement of chronic pain, psychiatric symptoms, and other substance use among US veterans with unhealthy alcohol use – a population with high rates of these co-occurring conditions.

Women and Racial Minorities are Marginalized in Trials of Medications for Alcohol Use Disorder

Women and racial minorities are seriously underrepresented in trials of medicines for alcohol use disorder (AUD) despite evidence that these treatments affect demographic groups differently. This is according to a review in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, which may be the first to evaluate sex and racial representation in studies relating to the three pharmacological treatments approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for AUD. Previous research indicates that sex and race/ethnicity likely influence the prevalence of AUD, its risk of health consequences, and the effectiveness of treatments.

Seekers Versus Non-Seekers of Treatment for Alcohol Dependence: Implications for Drug Development

A new report has highlighted key differences between participants in early and later stages of drug research for alcohol use disorder (AUD), which could affect study findings and confound evaluations of novel treatments. In the US, only 4% of people with diagnosed AUD receive medication to treat their condition, and currently only three drugs are approved for this purpose. Early-stage laboratory studies of new treatments, which often involve controlled alcohol use, usually enroll heavy drinkers who have not sought treatment for their AUD. Later-stage trials, however, typically enroll patients who have sought treatment (and hence better reflect those who might be prescribed an approved treatment in clinical practice). A lower motivation and ‘readiness to change’ of non-treatment seekers compared with treatment seekers could affect drinking behavior and medication adherence in research studies. As such, it is vital to compare these groups and assess for differences that could influence s

Cutting Down But Not Out: Very-Heavy Drinkers Needn’t Quit Completely for Cardiovascular Benefit

High-risk drinkers who substantially reduce their alcohol use can lower their risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) despite not completely abstaining, according to study findings published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. CVD encompasses a range of conditions involving the heart or blood vessels, and is the leading cause of death in the US. It is also one of many negative health outcomes associated with heavy drinking and alcohol use disorder (AUD). Reductions in drinking can be defined using World Health Organization (WHO) ‘risk drinking levels’, which classify drinkers into ‘very high’, ‘high’, ‘moderate’ and ‘low’ risk categories based on their average daily alcohol consumption. Previous research has shown that a reduction of two or more levels (for example, from ‘very high’ to ‘moderate’) can lower the risk of multiple health issues, but did not assess the impact on CVD specifically. The latest study has examined associations between reductions in WHO risk drinking

Not all is lost for alcohol relapsers: Low risk drinking and abstinence have similar effects on brain health measures after treatment for alcohol use disorder

A study published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research provides support for treatment goals based on reducing drinking, and not necessarily stopping completely, for people recovering from alcohol use disorder (AUD). AUD is linked to damaging reductions in the gray and white matter of certain brain regions. This tissue loss, particularly in the frontal brain lobes, can contribute to cognitive deficits and may increase the risk of relapse following treatment. In people with AUD who quit alcohol completely, brain tissue volumes can increase quite dramatically during abstinence, in parallel to cognitive improvements. Complete abstinence is also associated with improvements in general health and quality of life – therefore abstinence is the usual goal of treatment for AUD.

Good News for Alcohol Treatment Studies: Drinking in Lab Setting Reflects Real-World Alcohol Use

Rates of alcohol use disorder (AUD) have risen in the US in recent years. A small number of pharmacotherapies (drug treatments) are available for AUD, but there is an urgent need for more treatments to be evaluated. Increasingly, novel medications, as well as behavioral interventions, are tested in laboratory-based studies, where the impact on participants’ alcohol consumption can be directly assessed. However, it is not known if drinking in the laboratory setting accurately reflects individuals’ real-life drinking behavior and therefore if study findings hold true in the real-world. A new report in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research by researchers from the NIAAA-supported Center for the Translational Neuroscience of Alcoholism at Yale University addresses this issue, by examining the extent to which individuals’ drinking in a laboratory setting correlates with their (self-reported) alcohol use in the lead-up to the study.

Cerebellum and cognition: Impact of co-use of alcohol and cigarettes

There is consistent evidence that having an alcohol use disorder is associated with abnormalities in the cerebellum, a structure attached to the bottom of the brain that is involved in coordinating posture and balance but also in supporting some cognitive functions. Cigarette smoking, which often co-occurs with alcohol use, has also been shown to impact brain structure and function, and co-use of these substances is purported to accelerate aging of the brain. A report published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research examines neuroimaging (MRI) data from 92 people in order to further investigate the impact of smoking and alcohol status on the volume of the cerebellum and related cognitive function.