Drugs and alcohol take their toll on the human brain, which can be measured through a number of scanning techniques. When compared to the brains of people who have not had a substance use disorder, clear differences can be seen. That being said, the brain of one alcohol user may look different than another, and new research may have found that there are two types of alcoholics. Researchers from the University of Eastern Finland found that while all alcoholics share similar brain changes, some alterations are exclusive to one type of alcoholic but not another, PsychCentral reports. The findings are published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism.
There are two types of alcoholics, anxiety-prone (Type I) and impulsive (Type II) based on Cloninger’s typology, according to the article. The researchers looked at post-mortem brains from both types of alcoholics and a control group.
“From the viewpoint of the study setting, this division was made in order to highlight the wide spectrum of people suffering from alcohol dependence. The reality, of course, is far more diverse, and not every alcoholic fits into one of these categories,” said Olli Kärkkäinen, M.Sc. (Pharm).
Typically, Type I alcoholics are more prone to anxiety and are more likely to become dependent on alcohol later in life, the article reports. On the other hand, Type II alcoholics usually become dependent on alcohol when they are younger and show greater impulsivity and antisocial behavior.
In Type I alcoholic brains, the researchers found:
- Changes in the endocannabinoid system, which modulates stress responses.
- Increased Docosahexaenoylethanolamide levels in the amygdala, possibly linked to their anxiety prone nature.
With Type II alcoholic brains, the researchers found elevated levels of AMPA receptors in the anterior cingulate cortex, according to the article. That part of the brain has a hand in learning and the regulation of behavior, which could explain the impulsive nature of Type II alcoholics.
“These findings enhance our understanding of changes in the brain that make people prone to alcoholism and that are caused by long-term use. Such information is useful for developing new drug therapies for alcoholism, and for targeting existing treatments at patients who will benefit the most,” said Kärkkäinen, the study findings were part of his doctoral thesis.