(TeleManagement) A study by researchers at the University of Chicago suggests that recovering alcoholics have impaired stress responses that lead to cognitive problems.
A group of 48 male alcoholics detoxifying in hospital were compared to 30 non-alcoholic controls in a test of stress hormone response and memory and problem solving. All participants were placed under stress by being required to do mental arithmetic and having a hand placed in ice cold water.
Both these stress tests produce a burst of the hormone cortisol. The researchers noted that the alcoholics produced lower levels of cortisol in response to stress. They also performed less well in memory and problem-solving tests. However, it is not clear at this stage whether excess alcohol consumption actually damages the parts of the brain dealing with problem solving and memory. It could be that cortisol levels are abnormally low prior to the onset on alcoholism and even play a role in the condition. The true meaning of the association between cortisol and cognitive performance in alcoholism could be clarified by further research.