Monday, December 31, 2007

This Answers So Many Questions

Psychiatrist Paul Steinberg has a fascinating article in the NYT about binge drinking and how it affects long-term brain function in rats.

...after a longstanding abstinence following heavy binge-drinking, adult rats can learn effectively — but they cannot relearn.

When put into a tub of water and forced to continue swimming until they find a platform on which to stand, the sober former binge-drinking rats and the normal control rats (who had never been exposed to alcohol) learned how to find the platform equally well. But when the experimenters abruptly moved the platform, the two groups of rats had remarkably different performances. The rats without previous exposure to alcohol, after some brief circling, were able to find the new location. The former binge-drinking rats, however, were unable to find the new platform; they became confused and kept circling the site of the old platform.

Why? The toxicity brought on by heavy drinking lingers long in the brain.

From a political perspective, though, this quote warrants the double take:

Even after longstanding sobriety this inflammatory response translates into a tendency to stay the course, a diminished capacity for relearning and maladaptive decision-making.

"Stay the course?" President Bush isn't mentioned in the article, but he appears to be there in spirit, so to speak.

The obvious question is whether results like these can be extrapolated to humans. Maybe not, although the author thinks there's a good case to believe they can.

Our understanding of how the brain operates is experiencing giant leaps forward. When future historians try to piece together how such a disastrous presidency happened, it's an area that will receive substantial attention.

Hat tip to the High Plains Bull Moose.

No comments: