A recent study from Stanford University has shown that the fog of alcoholism can clear up with long-term sobriety. The study appears in the September issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
Past studies had shown that besides the direct effect of booze the brain of alcoholics do get messed up and these neuropsychological deficits continue even after an alcoholic dries out.
George Fein, PhD, and colleagues studied some alcoholics-25 men and 23 women whose average age was 47, ranging from 35 to 57. They hadn't had a drink for an average of 6.7 years, ranging from six months to 13 years of sobriety. In addition the researchers also studied the same number of age- and sex-matched volunteers who never drank much, if at all.
Fein says, "We found that the cognitive and mental abilities of middle-aged alcoholics who had been abstinent for six months to 13 years are indistinguishable from those of age- and gender-comparable nonalcoholics."
However the researchers found that the recovering alcoholics did appeared to have some difficulty in spatial orientation compared to their nonalcoholic peers. This orientation is often required to read a map or to assemble things.
It was found that although the recovering alcoholics did not do worse on any specific spatial test, their combined spatial test averages were lower those of the non alcoholics. Fein and colleagues are reluctant to give them a clean bill of health because spatial orientation is a brain function particularly affected by alcoholism.
Fein and colleagues warn that the results of their study weren't able to prove that sobriety eventually overcomes the effects of drinking mainly because they cannot correctly determine whether their alcoholic volunteers actually had mental deficits to begin with.
In addition age has an important role in the long-term effects of alcohol on the brain. The researchers say that those who start earlier or who wait until old age to stop likely suffer more brain damage and recover much more slowly.
Fein says, "We're not saying that you will have full recovery [of mental function] if you stop drinking in your 50s or 60s. We are saying that these people stopped drinking earlier, and they appear to have close-to-full recovery of function."