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Repeated alcohol detoxifications can impair cognitive function

  • Patients undergoing alcohol detoxification are more likely to have seizures if they have had previous episodes of detoxification.
  • New research confirms that repeated detoxifications can also impair cognitive function through damage to the frontal lobes.
  • Patients with mild to moderate alcoholism who have had two or more withdrawals performed worse on maze, vigilance and delay tasks.

Researchers and clinicians know that patients undergoing alcohol detoxification are more likely to experience seizures if they have undergone previous episodes of detoxification. Prior research has also indicated that multiple withdrawals may lead to changes in brain functioning. A study in the October issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research confirms previous findings of neurocognitive changes in alcoholics, extends those findings to individuals with mild to moderate alcoholism, and demonstrates a relationship of those changes to multiple withdrawals.

"Results from this study support previous findings of impaired frontal-lobe function in alcoholics," said Theodora Duka, associate professor at the University of Sussex and first author of the study. "Our study adds to that by showing that such impairments can be found also in non-severe alcoholics. But its major contribution to the field is that the number of detoxifications that patients experience contributes significantly to these impairments."

"Some clinicians tend to ignore the issue of multiple withdrawals, whereas other clinicians feel they're important, having come to realize that patients who have had multiple withdrawals are much more likely to have more severe withdrawal subsequently, and probably not respond as well to medication to block the withdrawal symptoms," said Robert Malcolm, professor of psychiatry, family medicine and pediatrics, and clinical investigator at the Center for Drug and Alcohol Programs, Medical University of South Carolina.
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14-Oct-2003


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