New research at the world-renowned Yale School of Medicine suggests a key area of the brain can help predict the likelihood that a recovering alcoholic will relapse. That region of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, came into focus during a study connecting the area associated with impulse control and relapse in the three months following treatment for alcohol abuse. The findings could provide significant benefits to addiction specialists and physicians who regularly treat individuals whose attempts to manage alcohol addiction have repeatedly failed.

The team of researchers, led by professor of psychiatry Rajita Sinha, examined patients at the Connecticut Mental Health Center and continued contact with them for 90 days after they left the treatment center. These patients had experienced alcohol abuse treatment at the center during a 4-week period. While at the center,  the team measured gray matter volumes in specific areas of each patient’s brain, using magnetic resonance imaging. The measured areas are considered reliable indicators of neural count and functionality.  After leaving the treatment center, each participant in the study was contacted three times in three months to check for relapse incidents. The research team noted that the individuals with the shortest time between leaving the treatment center and relapsing also possessed less gray matter in the scanned brain region.

In this study, nearly 70 percent of participants relapsed less than 60 days after leaving treatment. According to the study’s director, the lower volume of gray matter in the impulse control centers points to a possible predisposition to drink, and ultimately relapse, if an opportunity arises. But researchers do not blame alcohol consumption alone for the brain shrinkage. Genetic makeup and stress may be other contributing factors.

After decades of speculation about the relationship between gray matter volume and the tendency for relapse, the research could lead to more effective measures for those who experience a chronic relapse due to alcohol addiction. The ability to identify individuals with a greater risk for relapse would allow for quicker intervention as well as adequate adjustments of behavior and pharmaceutical-related treatments for anyone already experiencing a chronic relapse. The challenge may be to make the brain scanning technology more affordable and accessible for use in evaluating individuals before a history of relapse begins.

Long-Term Treatment for Alcohol Chronic Relapse

While the findings of this study will be shared with fellow researchers and health care professionals in February’s edition of The American Journal of Psychiatry, individuals with a history of chronic relapse related to alcohol addiction can find solutions now through the long-term alcohol rehabilitation program at Burning Tree in Texas. Addiction specialists at Burning Tree’s residential facilities, outside of Dallas and Austin, treat individuals whose previous attempts to effectively manage alcohol addiction repeatedly have been unsuccessful. By putting the values, skill sets and lifestyle of sobriety into practice while under constant care and supervision, the program at Burning Tree provides an opportunity for an individual to return to a healthy productive life at home, or create that healthy life for the first time. Admissions representatives handle intake questions at 866-287-2877 and more information is available online at www.burningtree.com.