63% of heavy alcoholics show significant cognitive improvements within 18 days of abstinence

63% of heavy alcoholics show significant cognitive improvements within 18 days of abstinence

Addiction can be extremely damaging to a person in many different areas, including brain function. A new study published in alcohol and alcoholism offers hope by suggesting that alcohol detox can significantly improve cognitive impairment within weeks.

Many people struggle with substance use disorders. This can lead to a plethora of problems with cognitive function, including lack of attention, impairments in executive function, memory loss, and more. Cognitive deficits have been associated with higher rates of relapse and more severe symptoms of substance use disorders.

Despite this, there are studies that suggest that some forms of cognitive function may improve upon cessation of use, but the factors affecting these improvements are not well understood. This study attempts to take a longitudinal approach to examining these cognitive improvements.

For their study, Bernard Angerville and colleagues used 32 participants with severe alcohol use disorder and 32 healthy controls as a sample. The alcohol use disorder group consisted of people admitted to a substance use program in a French psychiatric hospital between April 2018 and January 2019. Exclusion criteria for the alcohol use group were use of other substances, other psychiatric diagnoses, use of psychotropic drugs, and history of health problems such as stroke, head trauma, epilepsy, and liver fibrosis.

The substance use patients participated in a detoxification program that included treatment workshops and oral thiamine. The treatment lasted 5-9 days. The healthy controls were drawn from an online database and had no history of mental illness, neurological disorders, or serious illness. All participants completed measures of sociodemographic information, substance use, and BEARNI neuropsychological assessments.

Neuropsychological investigations tested verbal episodic memory, verbal working memory, executive functions, and visuo-spatial skills. Participants with an alcohol use disorder were tested 8 days and 18 days after alcohol cessation.

The results showed that nearly 60% of patients with alcohol use disorder had cognitive impairment 8 days after stopping alcohol use. Among those who had impairments, 63% showed an improvement in their deficits to a normal level of functioning after 18 days of alcohol cessation. Promising recovery rates have been shown for working memory and episodic memory at 60% and 63%, respectively. 67% of the participants who showed visual-spatial impairments at the first data collection point showed normal values ​​at the second data collection point. In addition, the recovery of flexibility performance was 100%.

“Carers should consider the neuropsychological impairments prior to 18 days of abstinence, considering that cognitive impairments are associated with treatment addiction outcomes,” the researchers said. “Eighteen days after alcohol cessation may represent a critical time to start psychotherapy, such as B. cognitive behavioral therapy, which requires intact cognitive function to be effective.”

This study took important steps to better understand how cognition can be improved after detoxification from heavy substance use. Nevertheless, there are restrictions to be observed. One of these limitations is that the sample size was limited. This was partly due to the strict exclusion criteria that kept the sample homogeneous, but smaller samples still show less power. Also, tobacco and nicotine use were not included in the exclusion criteria, which may impact cognition.

“Additional studies evaluating cognitive improvements during abstinence, and particularly earlier in abstinence, are needed,” Angerville and colleagues concluded. “Further studies should also evaluate the early course of social cognition, attentional bias, and inhibition deficits in patients with alcohol use disorder at the onset of abstinence, given their clinical implications.”

The study “Early Improvement of Neuropsychology Impairment During Detoxification in Patients with Alcohol Use Disorder” was authored by Bernard Angerville, Ludivine Ritz, Anne-Lise Pitel, Hélène Beaunieux, Hakim Houchi, Margaret P. Martinetti, Mickaël Naassila and Alain Dervaux.

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