New research promises hope for severe alcoholics, and the vast majority of those who manage to quit drinking show significant improvements in cognitive performance in just a few weeks. Cognitive deficits improved in 63% of the study sample after just 18 days of abstinence, showing that significant improvement is possible in a short amount of time.
Severe alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a condition in which alcohol consumption is difficult to control and people often have to build tolerance and increase their amounts to get the same effect. It is associated with many cognitive deficits, including information storage and retrieval, but excessive use can cause brain damage.
However, previous evidence indicates that quitting drinking can reverse some of the AUD-related deficits. But like many brain studies, scientists didn’t know exactly what was going on. To better understand it, researchers had to adopt a longitudinal approach. . That is, study the same people over a period of time and look for variation.
In 32 people with severe AUD, 24 of whom were men, researchers examined them when they stopped using alcohol on days 8 and 18. There were also 32 healthy controls included. AUD participants were helped through a detoxification program and alcohol withdrawal with oral thiamine treatment. Each participant underwent a brief assessment of alcohol-related neuropsychological disorders (BEARNI). It determines the cognitive status of alcoholics and is considered the gold standard of testing.
Results showed that 60% of AUD participants had cognitive impairment at 8 days, and 63% of these improved to normal levels within 18 days. The greatest improvement was in the visuospatial metric, which in 67% of subjects he improved by day 18.
Together, the study shows improvements in cognition after quitting alcohol in as little as 18 days.
This study has some limitations in that the sample size was small and other co-founding factors, such as other substances that may affect cognition, including nicotine use, were not considered.
This is the fastest improvement found in AUD patients to date, and although more research is needed to know for sure, cognitive deficits may begin to decline in an even shorter period of time.
The study was published in the Journal of Alcohol and Alcoholics.