Alcoholics must stop tippling if they want to recover from brain damage caused by the drinks, says a study that researched the brain's capacity to regenerate.
The study by German, British, Swiss and Italian researchers provides evidence that excessive drinking for a long period risks loss of the brain's regeneration capacity, reported science portal EurekAlert.
During abstinence, an alcoholic's brain regains some substance as the levels of two chemicals, which are indicators for how well the brain's nerve cells and nerve sheaths are constituted, significantly rise.
The researchers measured brain volume of 15 alcohol-dependent patients - 10 men, five women - at the beginning of the study and again after 38 days of sobriety.
The findings, published Monday in the online edition of the journal Brain, used sophisticated scanning technology and computer software to measure how brain volume, form and function changed over six to seven weeks of abstinence.
The increase of the nerve cell marker correlated with the patients performing better in a test of attention and concentration. Only one patient seemed to continue to lose some brain volume, and this was also the patient who had been an alcoholic for the longest time.
"The core message from this study is that for alcoholics abstinence pays off and enables the brain to regain some substance and to perform better," said research leader Andreas Bartsch from the University of Wuerzburg, Germany.
"Our research also provides evidence that the longer you drink excessively, the more you risk losing this capacity for regeneration. Therefore, alcoholics must not put off the time when they decide to seek help and stop drinking," he said.
"The sooner they do it, the better," Bartsch added.