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alcohol effects last long into sobriety

People with severe alcohol use disorders can experience cognitive deficits due to the damage that drinking too much alcohol for a long period of time can cause within the brain.

Fortunately, much of the damage that alcohol does to the brain begins to reverse when alcoholics stop drinking. But, there are some problems with brain function that linger long after the drinker quits.

Studies have found that alcoholics who have remained abstinent, even for a prolonged period of time, can display visuospatial and visuoperception deficits.

Visuospatial skills include the ability to see an object or image as a set of parts and then be able to construct a replica of the original from the parts. For example, visuospatial construction includes putting together furniture that comes unassembled, constructing models, or even making a bed or buttoning shirts.

Visuoperceptual ability is being able to recognize objects based on their form, pattern, and color. Simply put, visual perception is the brain’s ability to make sense of what the eyes see.

These cognitive skills are important for many basic everyday tasks such as reading, writing, completing math problems, or even getting dressed. For example, someone with visual perception deficits might have a problem reading a map.

If someone has visuospatial or visuoperceptual deficits it can impair their ability to accurately assess distance and spatial relations between objects, which could cause problems in trying to drive a vehicle, for example.

A deficit of the ability to use visual-spatial cues, to detect changes and consistencies, and subtle visual discriminations can affect the ability to accomplish everyday tasks like pushing a cart through a grocery store or recognizing your child in a group of similarly dressed children.

Researchers have found that even with long-term sobriety, alcoholics can continue to display deficits in visuoperception and frontal executive functioning of the brain.

Additionally, because of the damage alcohol has done to their brains, alcoholics have to use a more complex higher-order cognitive system, frontal executive functions, to perform the same tasks that others without a history of alcoholism perform, researchers have found.

In one study, researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine gave a picture fragment identification test to 51 recently detoxified alcoholic men and 63 control men. They also tested executive function and explicit declarative memory.