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Study: Alcohol Abuse Leads To Shift In Brain Functions

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A researcher performs tests on mice in a lab.   (credit: ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP/Getty Images)

A researcher performs tests on mice in a lab. (credit: ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP/Getty Images)

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BETHESDA, Md. (CBSDC) – According to a new study, chronic alcohol exposure leads to a brain shift that takes away complex-decision making skills and gears it toward habit forming association.

Andrew Holmes, Ph.D., in the Laboratory of Laboratory of Behavioral and Genomic Neurosciences at NIAA, and his team of researchers conducted the study to investigate whether changes occur in the brain over time due to alcohol abuse.

Holmes and the researchers  noticed changes in the mice that were used for testing.  The dorsal striatum, an area in the brain which is essential for motivating and forming habits, changed when they were exposed to alcohol.

“These findings give important insight into how excessive drinking affects learning and behavioral content at the neural level, Kenneth R. Warren, Ph.D., acting director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, said in a press release.

The team of researchers suggest that drug and alcohol abuse doesn’t just reduce brain function but rather produces a set of complex adaptations that dial down some functions of the brain while adjusts functions in other parts.

These findings help explain compulsive alcohol use and how it progresses into alcohol dependency.

“The changes we observed suggest that the manner in which the dorsal striatum signaled and adapted to environmental information has been altered by alcohol,” Dr. Holmes added in that press release.

The study was conducted at the National Institutes of Health.

It was published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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