Monday, July 23, 2007

Certain components of the brain's executive functions are compromised early in abstinence

Certain components of the brain's executive functions are compromised early in abstinence"The term 'executive functioning' is a business analogy, where the executive monitors all of the different departments so that the company/brain/person can move forward in as efficient and effective a way as possible," said corresponding author H. Scott Swartzwelder, professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center and a senior research career scientist at the Durham VA Medical Center. "So, in terms of real-world activity, executive functioning has everything to do with who we are, how we organize our lives, and how we plan and then execute those plans."

"Executive functions are very, very important to everyday living," added Marlene Oscar Berman, professor of neurology, psychiatry, and anatomy & neurobiology at Boston University Medical School, and research career scientist at the Boston Veteran Affairs Healthcare System. "They are defined differently by different theorists and researchers. Most agree, however, that executive functions are human qualities, including self-awareness, that allow us to be independent individuals with purpose and foresight about what we will do and how we behave. Common executive abilities include judgment, problem solving, decision making, planning, and social conduct, and depend upon many of our cognitive abilities such as attention, perception, memory, and language."

"Alcohol affects executive functioning both acutely and chronically," said Swartzwelder. "In terms of acute effects, a single heavy dose of alcohol will lead to a decrease in a person's executive functioning, particularly in terms of what we call 'working memory.' Working memory allows you to juggle several cognitive 'balls' at the same time, and remember what you've been doing. In terms of chronic alcohol consumption, the effects are much broader, and particularly damaging to the frontal lobes, that region of the brain that really is responsible for executive functioning. It occurred to us that, among people who have just stopped drinking, there may still be some residual effects from their acute consumption as well as cumulative effects from their chronic drinking."

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