Alcohol Use Alters Brain Functioning

alcohol use disorder

Addiction treatment is in many cases a one-size-fits-all approach. What works for one client is likely to be beneficial for another. Everyone who is actively working a program of recovery using the 12 Step model is expected to follow the same suggestions. That is, work the same steps, following a model that has been passed down for generations. There are no exceptions, there are no differences between what is required from both men and women.

Males and females, to be sure, have different needs which are typically observed in treatment. They both have had experiences that may be unique to one particular sex, but at the end of the day the mechanisms of addiction and subsequent approaches to achieve recovery are similar. However, in recent years scientists have been narrowing in on variations between men and women regarding addiction. We know that both sexes are eligible for addiction. We know that continued use over long periods of time, more times than not, will lead to dependence and use disorders. In both men and women, the havoc that substances, like alcohol, will wreak on the human body is extensive. Both physically and mentally.

It is widely agreed upon that men consume more alcohol than women. When men drink, they tend to imbibe, in what could only be described as, more aggressively. Males binge drink more often and in greater amounts than females, but research has shown that women have stepped up their alcohol use. Especially middle-aged and older women. What is relatively unknown about heavy drinking is how it affects the brains of men and women differently.


How Alcohol Use Alters Brain Functioning

Long-term alcohol use has the propensity to do serious harm, potentially having lasting consequences. Those who engage in heavy alcohol use for long periods of time are at great risk, regardless of sex. Yet, some researchers have wondered if drinking alcohol alters the brains of men differently than women. And, if so, could it mean that methods of treatment (especially treatments involving medication) will be more effective for one sex compared to the other. A group of Finnish researchers found that, in fact, the brains of young men undergo changes which are not the same as young women who engage in heavy alcohol use, Science Daily reports. The researchers used Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) on young heavy drinkers, a method which activates brain neurons; the subjects’ brains were then observed using an EEG (electroencephalogram).

“We found more changes in brain electrical activity in male subjects, than in females, which was a surprise, as we expected it would be the other way around,” said Dr Outi Kaarre, a researcher at the University of Eastern Finland and Kuopio University Hospital, Finland. “This means that male brain electrical functioning is changed more than female brains by long-term alcohol use” 

Dr. Kaarre points out that alcohol use has a more pronounced effect on both electrical and chemical neurotransmission in the brains of men, according to the article. The receptors under the spotlight are the GABA A and B. Men who engage in long-term alcohol use had alterations to both A and B, but in females it was the GABA-A receptors that were affected. Which could explain why the efficacy of a new drug for treating alcohol dependence, Baclofen (a GABA-B agonist), has had varying results.

The findings, presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, could have serious implications for treating male and female patients with an alcohol use disorder (AUD).


Young Adult Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment

If you are binge drinking on a regular basis, multiple days per week, then you are on dangerous path to alcohol use disorder. You may already meet the criteria for a use disorder and without treatment things will only get worse. If you are a young adult whose life has become unmanageable due to alcohol use, please contact Hemet Valley Recovery Center & Sage Retreat. We can help.