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Alcohol Awareness Month: Heavy drinkers’ claim of handling alcohol is a myth, says study

04-24-17 Category: Addiction

Alcohol Awareness Month: Heavy drinkers’ claim of handling alcohol is a myth, says study

“I know how to handle my drinks,” is an oft-repeated phrase by heavy drinkers. However, this statement is far from the truth, claimed a recent study led by a researcher from the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System. Over time, heavy drinkers might develop behavioral tolerance to alcohol that can help them handle some fine motor tasks, but they are inept in accomplishing the more complex tasks, the study said.

The findings unveiled that though heavy drinkers fared better than light drinkers on a rote fine motor test over time, they did not fare well while performing a test involving short-term memory, motor speed or more complex cognitive abilities.

The study, published in the journal Psychopharmacology in March 2017, sheds light on the changes and problems linked to chronic excessive drinking, debunking some previous myths surrounding alcoholism. “The results have implications for our understanding of alcohol-induced impairments across neurobehavioral processes in heavy drinkers and their ongoing risks for alcohol-related consequences over time,” said lead researcher Dr. Ty Brumback, a postdoctoral fellow in addiction treatment with VA and the University of California, San Diego.

Heavy ‘drinkers’ vs light ‘drinkers’

The study said that a heavy drinker is one who has consumed between 10 and 40 alcoholic beverages per week in the last two years during the initial testing. For men, binge drinking is consuming more than five drinks at one go and for women, it is more than four drinks.

Light drinkers were those who consumed fewer than six drinks per week. All the participants maintained these habits during five years between initial testing and follow-up.

The respondents participated in two psychomotor tasks as assessments.

  1. Grooved Pegboard Test: It aimed at gauging the fine motor skills of the participants, where they were timed moving, rotating and inserting pegs into slotted holes on the board.
  2. Digit Symbol Substitution Test (DSST): The task assessed the fine motor skills as well as the short-term memory and cognitive processing of the participants, who received a legend with different symbols corresponding to numbers. In 90 seconds, they had to fill in the correct symbols on the sheet with numbers.

Based on their body weight, the researchers provided all the respondents a dose of alcohol followed by an evaluation at 30, 60, 120 and 180 minutes after the drink.

Tolerance to alcohol not equal across all tasks

All the participants fared bad in both the tests when impaired by alcohol. Some of the key observations from the evaluation were:

  • Both groups did better in the follow-up tests. The heavy drinkers performed better on the pegboard than the light drinkers, relative to initial testing scores.
  • However, in the DSST, both the groups fared equally bad during the follow-up testing.
  • Heavy drinkers exhibited chemical tolerance to alcohol drinkers. They also absorbed and metabolized alcohol faster compared to light drinkers.
  • Heavy drinkers may perform simpler fine motor tasks better than light drinkers may, but not the ones that require more complex motor processing and short-term memory.

“The take-home message here is that tolerance to alcohol is not equal across all tasks and is not ‘protective’ against accidents or injuries while intoxicated,” said Brumback.

Dealing with alcoholism

Regular alcohol consumption for a prolonged period can be fatal. Chronic and excessive alcoholism has killed approximately 88,000 people in the United States from 2006 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It led to 2.5 million years of potential life lost each year in the country.

Yet, alcoholism is treatable and one can reverse the ill effects with timely intervention. To educate people about the pitfalls of alcoholism and to spread awareness about ways to get away from this scourge, “Alcohol Awareness Month” is observed each year throughout the U.S.

If a loved one is grappling with an addiction and you are looking for an alcohol addiction treatment program, contact Sovereign Health that offers comprehensive alcohol addiction treatment to its patients. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-698-4295 and avail the best alcoholism treatment for a faster recovery.

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