A new study has promised hope for severe alcoholics by showing that the majority of those that manage to go sober have significant cognitive improvements after just weeks. Deficits in cognition, such as memory loss and attention, were improved in 63 percent of the study sample after just 18 days of sobriety, showing that a marked improvement is possible in just a short time.
Severe alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a difficulty in controlling alcohol intake, with people often building a tolerance and requiring increased amounts to get the same effect. High alcohol consumption is linked with a large number of cognitive deficits, including the storage and retrieval of information, while severe use can result in brain damage.
However, previous evidence has shown that going sober can reverse some of the deficits associated with AUD; but, as with a lot of brain research, exactly what is going on eluded scientists. To understand it better, the researchers needed to take a longitudinal approach, in which they study the same people over a period of time to look for any changes.
Taking 32 people with severe AUD, 24 of whom were men, the researchers examined them as they stopped using alcohol at 8 days and then 18 days; there were also 32 healthy controls included. The AUD participants were helped through the alcohol cessation by a detoxification program and oral thiamine treatment. Each participant was subject to the Brief Evaluation of Alcohol-Related Neuropsychological Impairment (BEARNI), which determines an alcoholic's cognitive status and is considered among the gold standard of testing.
The results showed 60 percent of the AUD participants had cognitive impairments at 8 days, with 63 percent of these showing improvements up to normal levels within 18 days. The largest gains were in the visuospatial metrics, which improved in 67 percent of subjects by 18 days.
Together, the study shows that in just a short span of 18 days, improvements can be seen in cognition after going alcohol-free.
The study has some limitations in that the sample size is small and other cofounding factors were not accounted for, such as other substances that may affect cognition, including nicotine use.
This is the quickest improvement in people with AUD a study has found so far and it is possible that cognitive deficits could begin to decrease in an even shorter time, though further studies will be needed to know for sure.
The research was published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism.