Drinking alcohol kills stem cells in adult brain

Alcohol is one of the most commonly abused addictive substance in America, and it is pervasive in different cultures within the nation. In fact, people across the world have a long historical relationship with drinking, consuming it during family celebrations, achievements and important events. But the relationship has not been an easy one. Americans have struggled to balance their love of liquor with other responsibilities in their lives and many have succumbed to the problems.

Alcohol is a major contributor of mortality and the third leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States by causing a plethora of ailments such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, stroke, liver cirrhosis, several types of cancer and infections, pancreatitis, type 2 diabetes, and unwanted injuries. Numerous research in this field have indicated that prolonged alcohol abuse can cause severe brain damage and neuro-degeneration.

As highlighted by the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), in 2016, 136.7 million Americans aged 12 or older were current alcohol drinkers while 16.3 million were heavy drinkers in the past month. Underage drinking is another worrying cause for concern with one in 11 adolescents being current alcohol consumers.

Theory of brain stem cells

A study by researchers from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston has discovered that too much alcohol can kill the brain stem cells, essential for cognitive functioning. They carried out their research in adult mice and also found that frequent drinking can reduce the production and development of new nerve cells causing unwanted changes in the brain. This is contrary to what scientists earlier believed that the number of nerve cells in the adult brain is fixed early in life and by protecting the remaining nerve cells, it was possible to treat alcohol-induced brain damage. The discovery that the adult brain produces stem cells that create new nerve cells opens up the doors to a whole new possibility in treating alcohol use disorder (AUD) and alcohol-induced brain damage.

However, it needs to be understood in finer detail how the brain stem cells are impacted by alcohol at various stages in their growth, in the different regions of the brain and in the brains of both females and males. It was found in the study that different brain regions were affected differently by repeated alcohol consumption and the region most susceptible to damage was the one where new brain cells are created in the adult brain.

Impact on females versus male brains

The researchers were able to observe these details by using a cutting-edge technique that allows brain cells to be tagged, and notice their migration and development into specialized nerve cells observed over a period. This helped them study the impact of long-term alcohol consumption on the cells.

This study also proved that females are more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol than males. The team observed that in the female brains, the pool of stem cells in the subventricular zone got substantially reduced than in male brains, and they also exhibited “severe intoxication behaviors” from alcohol consumption.

Road to recovery

Alcohol is not only a social evil but also a negative  personal trait, which makes a person lose his/her sense of control causing harm not just to oneself but also to those around him or her. It is important to seek effective treatment for problematic drinking behavior in order to live a healthier and happier life.

If you or your loved one is battling alcohol addiction, the Florida Alcohol Addiction Helpline can provide information on some of the renowned facilities for evidence-based treatment in Florida and other parts of the U.S. Call our 24/7 helpline 866-220-5381 or chat online with one of our treatment specialists to know more about reputed alcohol rehabilitation centers in Florida where recovery is facilitated in a safe and compassionate environment.