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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Brain: Chronic Alcohol Maintains Fear

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Sep 13th 2012


brainNew research reveals that if you’ve had a traumatic incident and are abusing alcohol, your brain is being rewired against healing. Study author Thomas Kash, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine said. "Basically, our research shows that chronic exposure to alcohol can cause a deficit with regard to how our cognitive brain centers control our emotional brain centers." This seems to be another neuroscience study confirming what people have known for quite a while. 

In this study, they gave mice double the legal drinking limit of alcohol and conditioned a bell with an electric shock. They then took half of the mice off of the alcohol and kept half on. They brought the bell back and the mice who continued getting the alcohol kept reacting with frightened reactions while the clean mice eventually stopped becoming frightened. 

When they looked into the brains of the mice they saw differences in their prefrontal cortices. This is consistent with other research pointing to the maladaptive effects of alcohol to the prefrontal cortex. 

The key finding in this study seems to be that they also found the activity of a key receptor, NMDA, to be suppressed. Apparently this may help some pharmaceutical companies come up with a more specific drug to help patients with PTSD or Anxiety who have brain damage due to alcohol abuse overcome fear. 

Or, maybe research will find that by engaging life in particular ways, like stopping drinking, engaging in healthy activities like exercise, meditations and maintaining a supportive community, this may also positively affect these key receptors. 

We don’t know because the mice didn’t get the chance to find out. 

But, we as human beings need to trust our experience and if you have struggled with drugs and alcohol in the past and have suffered with anxiety or PTSD, it’s important to understand that you are an active participant in your own health and well-being. 

I believe that one of the critical elements to healing ourselves and the brain is in our relationships. If we can find supportive communities whether it be through Alcoholic’s Anonymous, therapy groups, or just a good group of friends (harder to just create), then we’re far more likely to succeed. 

There’s power in community, I think all the world’s wisdom traditions figured that out a long time ago. 

However, there is also no shame in being supported pharmacologically if that helps the person get to a point to integrate the necessary tools to begin moving forward in life. 

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.


Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

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