Can Brain Scans Help Shape Type of Treatment for Alcoholics?

on Monday, 22 December 2014. Posted in Breaking News

New alcohol treatment methods are using advanced brain imagery and medication to aid in recovery. These treatment methods take into account the effect alcohol has on the brain's interconnectivity, and how the minute changes there relate to alcohol dependence.

The TRANSALC Project is a worldwide effort to use recent findings on alcohol and the brain to develop more effective strategies for recovery. The project takes advantage of advanced brain imaging technology and medications that treat alcoholism.

The TRANSALC project admits patients after their initial withdrawal symptoms have subsided, and begins by having the individual undergo an MRI scan. The snapshots taken during that first scan are later compared to an MRI scan taken at the end of the treatment period to determine if the neural system shows any signs of healing.

TRANSALC researchers also use the brain scans to help create a more personalized and effective method of alcohol treatment for each patient.

It has long been common knowledge among those in the medical community that alcohol has a damaging effect on the brain, but not much else was know about the nature of the damage and what areas of the brain it actually affects. Scientists were also unsure of whether or not the brain is capable of healing itself after this type of damage is done.

Now with new, more advanced brain scanning technology, there is a clearer picture of how alcohol leaves its mark on the neural systems of heavy drinkers.

With the TRANSALC project, patients who have undergone their initial brain scans are then introduced to the drug Naltrexone. The medication is meant to be used as a supplement to traditional treatment methods to help curb the urge to drink.

It can be an especially useful aide for patients in recovery whose heavy drinking has caused irreversible brain damage to the parts of the brain associated with impulse control, judgement, and behavior modification. Medication like Naltrexone combined with rehab, support groups, and/or therapy should effectively reduce alcohol cravings and make the chance of a relapse less likely.

TRANSALC hopes that the combination of brain scans and medication will give even those who have drank heavily for decades and caused severe damage to the brain, a better chance at reaching full recovery.

The TRANSALC project is currently compiling data from patients around the world to determine how effective the new approach is and what could be changed. The project's organizers are hopeful about their findings so far, saying that so far the results have been promising, especially with patients that took medication along with their treatment.

The project's goal is to develop an effective treatment that can be used with even the most severe cases of alcoholism to give the patient a chance at a full and long lasting recovery.

The brain imaging technology involved in the project is giving researchers a better look at how capable the brain is at healing itself. So far research has shown that abstinence from alcohol does allow the brain the opportunity to begin healing.

This means that an individual with a history of heavy drinking may be able to regain their ability to control their impulses, make measured decisions about their behavior, and form sound judgments. The reward system of the brain may be able to return to normal, while the section of the brain that create inhibiting behavior can once again be strong.


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