Now-a-days there are various tools and technology which help the doctors and researchers to study the effects of alcohol use on the brain. Various methods like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), positron emission tomography (PET), and electrophysiological brain mapping, provide great assistance in studying how alcohol affects the brain’s structure and function.
Long–term heavy drinking may lead to shrinking of the brain and deficiencies in the fibers (white matter) that carry information between brain cells (gray matter). In order to assess the extent of damage done in patients who have just stopped chronic heavy drinking, MRI and DTI are very helpful. Studies using MRI are helping scientists to determine how memory and attention improve with long-time abstinence from alcohol, as well as what changes take place when a patient begins drinking again.
The goal of these studies is to determine which alcohol–induced effects on the brain are permanent and which ones can be reversed with abstinence.
PET imaging is allowing researchers to visualize, in the living brain, the damage that results from heavy alcohol consumption. This “snapshot” of the brain’s function enables scientists to analyze alcohol’s effects on various nerve cell communication systems (i.e., neurotransmitter systems) as well as on brain cell metabolism and blood flow within the brain. These studies have detected deficits in alcoholics, particularly in the frontal lobes, which are responsible for numerous functions associated with learning and memory, as well as in the cerebellum, which controls movement and coordination.