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

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

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

Addiction can be extremely detrimental to an individual in many different areas, including brain function. A new study published in Alcohol and alcoholism provides hope by suggesting that alcohol detox can greatly improve cognitive impairment within weeks.

Many people struggle with substance use disorder. This can lead to a plethora of impaired cognitive functioning including lack of attention, impaired executive functioning, memory loss, and more. Cognitive deficits have been associated with higher rates of relapse and more severe symptomatology of substance use disorders.

Despite this, there have been studies suggesting that some forms of cognitive functioning may improve upon termination of use, but the factors affecting these improvements are not well understood. This study aims to take a longitudinal approach to investigate these cognitive improvements.

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

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

Neuropsychological assessments tested verbal episodic memory, verbal working memory, executive functioning, and visuospatial abilities. Participants who had an alcohol use disorder were tested 8 days and 18 days after stopping alcohol.

The results showed that nearly 60% of patients with alcohol use disorders had cognitive impairment 8 days after stopping alcohol. Of those who showed impairments, 63% showed improvement in their deficits such that they reached normal levels of functioning after 18 days of stopping alcohol consumption. Promising recovery rates were shown for working memory and episodic memory at 60 and 63%. 67% of participants who had visuospatial impairment at the first data collection point had normal levels at the second data collection point. In addition, the flexibility performance recovery was 100%.

“Caregivers should consider neuropsychological impairment before 18 days of abstinence, considering that cognitive impairment is related to outcomes of treatment addiction,” the researchers said. “Eighteen days after quitting alcohol could represent a critical time to begin psychotherapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, which require intact cognitive functioning to be effective.”

This study has taken important steps to better understand how cognition can be improved after detoxification from severe substance use. Despite this, there are limitations to note. One of these limitations is that the sample size was limited. This was partly due to the strict exclusion criteria, which kept the sample homogeneous, but smaller samples show less power regardless. In addition, tobacco and nicotine consumption were not included in the exclusion criteria, which could have an effect on cognition.

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

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

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