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Alcohol Can Rewire Our Brains

Is it possible to rewire our brain? (NOTE: Subscribers can still listen to this show). Sometimes this may happen without our knowledge, such as when we drink too much.

Doctors have long recognized a link between alcoholism and anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Those who drink heavily are at increased risk for traumatic events like car accidents and domestic violence, but that only partially explains the connection. New research using mice reveals heavy alcohol use actually rewires brain circuitry, making it harder for alcoholics to recover psychologically following a traumatic experience.

Pharmacologist Thomas Kash says, "There's a whole spectrum to how people react to a traumatic event. 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."

Understanding the relationship between alcohol and anxiety at the molecular level could offer new possibilities for developing drugs to help patients with anxiety disorders who also have a history of heavy alcohol use. According to Kash, "This (study of mice) is exciting because it gives us a specific molecule to look at in a specific brain region, thus opening the door to discovering new methods to treat these disorders." With soldiers coming home with PTSD--and maybe taking up drinking--this could be an important study.

If you want to know what your brain is up to when you take a drink (or any other time), you will soon be able to put on a wireless headband, then access a smartphone app. That's the idea behind Muse, a wearable device that's essentially a lightweight portable EEG machine that lets users monitor their brain activity in real time using their cell phone.The headband itself has four sensors that make contact with the forehead and ears.



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