A new research study finds that men and women are affected differently by chronic alcohol abuse that goes on for an extended period. The study looked at the volume of white brain matter in both sexes and determined that the white brain matter in women is recovered faster than the white brain matter in men after chronic alcohol abuse when abstinence occurs. The study results are available in the online journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. Study coauthors Marlene Oscar Berman, PhD. and Susan Mosher Ruiz, PhD. believe that the findings point out how alcohol abuse over the long term affects men and women differently. Dr. Berman is a professor of psychiatry, neurology and anatomy, and neurobiology at BUSM and she is also a VA Boston Healthcare System research career scientist. Dr. Mosher Ruiz works at the Laboratory for Neuropsychology at BUSM as a postdoctoral research scientist, and she is also associated with the VA Boston Healthcare System in the same capacity.
The study focused on the white brain matter. This is the brain tissue responsible for forming connections between the neurons so that cellular communication occurs in the brain. MRI technology was used to create images of the subject brains, and the study showed that the longer alcohol was abused the more white matter was affected. Dr. Mosher Ruiz explained “We believe that many of the cognitive and emotional deficits observed in people with chronic alcoholism, including memory problems and flat affect, are related to disconnections that result from a loss of white matter. These findings preliminarily suggest that restoration and recovery of the brain’s white matter among alcoholics occurs later in abstinence for men than for women. We hope that additional research in this area can help lead to improved treatment methods that include educating both alcoholic men and women about the harmful effects of excessive drinking and the potential for recovery with sustained abstinence.”