Heavy alcohol use affects brain function differently in men and women

Posted on December 8th, 2017 in Addiction

Heavy alcohol use affects brain function differently  in men and women

Usually, drinking patterns are different among both men and women. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), men are about twice more likely to be diagnosed with alcohol use disorder (AUD) than women.

Additionally, past research has indicated that men are more prone to heavy drinking and binge drinking. However, gender divide with regard to alcohol consumption is slowly diminishing in recent years as more women are indulging in drinking. This is most evident in the lifestyle of young adults as suggested by another research.

Overall, there has been a magnificent increase in the general trend of alcohol in the last one decade, especially among women, due to a diverse number of reasons. There has also been an unprecedented escalation in the rate of binge drinking and heavy drinking. Despite the consistent spike across both the genders, it has been widely observed that the brain cells of both men and women respond differently to chronic alcohol use.  Several comparative studies have highlighted alarming facts pertaining to the difference in the after-effects of drinking on women and men.

Long-term alcohol use triggers more pronounced changes in men

A paper, presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) conference at Paris recently revealed about substantial changes in the brain cell function among young men and women due to heavy alcohol use. A group of Finnish scientists examined 11 young men and 16 young women who had been drinking alcohol heavily for the past 10 years and compared their results with 12 young men and 13 young women who either were non-drinkers or drank rarely.

The researchers stimulated the brain neurons using the noninvasive procedure transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Under this procedure, the magnetic impulses activates the brain neurons. They found some contrasts in the responses of men and women who were heavy drinkers, specifically in the activity of the neurotransmitter – gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors. Since GABA is involved in many neurological systems and regulates anxiety and depression by calming down the brain activity, the above finding is quite a revelation for medical practitioners and experts. Unlike previous studies, the above study indicated that men have comparatively more marked changes in both electrical and chemical neurotransmission than women.

There are two types of GABA receptors, A and B. Previous animal studies have established that the GABA-A receptor activity may influence drinking patterns while GABA-B influences cravings for alcohol. The long-term alcohol use affects both the types of GABA receptors in males. On the contrary, only GABA-A is affected in the case of women indulging in persistent and excessive drinking. This was an unexpected finding.

Alcohol increases risk of long-term harm

These findings could have significant consequences on the treatment of alcoholism in male and female patients and may shed some light on the role that medications may play in treating alcohol dependence. For instance, it could help to explain the mixed results obtained from medications like Baclofen, which only targets GABA-B receptors. These differences could also help clinicians understand what drives men and women to drink heavily, how they react to alcohol and why they develop dependence.

Although none of the participants of the study had AUD and most of them were in their 20s, one of the worrying facts is that they were already exhibiting alcohol-related brain changes. This finding suggests that alcohol-related brain changes may not take long to develop.

If you suspect your loved one to be addicted to alcohol and feel that he or she needs treatment, get in touch with the Arizona Alcohol Addiction Helpline to know more about the alcohol addiction treatment centers in Arizona. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-671-1510 or chat online to get more information about the best alcohol addiction treatment in Arizona.

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