Excessive and prolonged alcohol consumption during adolescence and youth not only affects brain development, causing visible changes in the EEG (electroencephalogram), but also translates differently into the brains of men and women, causing more functional changes.
These are two central conclusions of a study by Finnish scientists in the area of neuroscience, which will be presented this week at the annual European College of Neuro Psychopharmacology conference in Paris.
“We found that there are more changes in the electrical activity of the brain in men than in women [because of continued excessive consumption of alcohol]”, said Outi Kaarre, a researcher at Kuopio University Hospital, one of the authors of the study.
In fact, the results show that there are electrical and chemical changes in the brain, namely in relation to a neurotransmitter named GABA and its neuronal receptors, of which there are two different types: The A, and the B. According to new data, excessive and continuous consumption of alcoholic beverages affects both types of receptors in men, while in women only the neurotransmitter type A receptors undergo alterations. However, what this means and how it can be interpreted from the point of view of the brain functioning of men and women is not clear.
“GABA”, notes Outi Kaarre, “is a fundamental neurotransmitter, which is involved in the inhibition of many of the brain’s systems and functions and plays an important role, for example, in anxiety and depression disorders”. In general, says the researcher, “this neurotransmitter has an effect of decreasing, or calming, brain activity”.
Animal studies have shown that the GABA-A receptor is associated with lower alcohol consumption patterns, while GABA-B is more present in the brain process linked to the desire to drink. Thus, the Finnish team believes their results “could be the door to a possible mechanism that explains the differences between men and women” in relation to alcohol consumption.
In this study, 11 men and 16 women, aged between 23 and 28 years, with a history of 10 years or more of excessive alcohol consumption were involved. All of them with alterations in the EEG, after applying a magnetic stimulation, that stimulates the neuronal activity, individuals of the same age and without this history did not present these changes.