According to a recent study, girls who experience concussion in childhood may be at an increased risk for abusing alcohol later in life.

However, the study—published recently in the Journal of Neurotrauma—notes that the risk can be reversible.

In the study, a research team from Ohio State University carried out experiments on mice to see what impact a concussion could have on their attraction to alcohol, and whether this attraction could be reversed, according to a news story that appeared in Medical News Today.

At 21 days old (equivalent to an age of 6 to 12 years in humans), the mice received a concussive head injury. Later, they were allowed to choose between two bottles: one containing water, and the other containing escalating doses of ethanol diluted in water, per the story.

The female adult mice that had been injured drank significantly more ethanol than those that had not. The juvenile head injury had no effect on drinking in male mice, the news story notes.

The researchers suggest via tests on the mice’s physiological systems that the head injury did not affect how they processed alcohol, leading them to believe that the female mice linked the alcohol with a reward.

The team then placed the mice in boxes with visibly different patterns covering separate sections of the floor. Over 10 days, they injected the areas with either alcohol or saline.

The mice were allowed to walk back and forth between boxes, the story continues. The mice that liked alcohol tended to spend more time on the side associated with alcohol.

The injured female mice spent about 65% of their time in the box linked to alcohol—significantly more than the uninjured mice, according to the news story.

To test their hypothesis that this attraction to alcohol could be reversed with sustained follow-up care after an injury, the research team then set up an enriched environment for the mice to mimic follow-up care for injured humans.

Half of the injured mice were placed in larger cages with running wheels, toys, and tunnels, and with a new experience provided every week for 6 weeks. The other half of the injured mice were placed in standard housing conditions.

When the researchers tested the mice for alcohol intake, they found that the enriched environment completely blocked the females’ increase in drinking, and reduced the axon damage in their brains by about 40%, the news story explains.

Overall, the news story explains, it appears that females with a mild closed-head brain injury are more likely to misuse alcohol later in life and to associate drinking with reward and pleasure—an effect that was not seen in males.

On the other hand, the effect is reversible with an enriched environment. Apart from preventing increased drinking, the environmental enrichment also reduced degeneration of axons—the long, slender extensions of the nerve cell body, the story continues.

“There are ways to intervene, but they’re expensive in terms of effort and money. It requires sustained treatment and rehabilitation and educational support. The best therapy for a childhood brain injury is everybody getting great medical care and rehabilitation, regardless of socioeconomic status,” says Zachary Weil, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Ohio State University, who led the study.

“People with juvenile head injuries are already at risk for memory problems, difficulty concentrating, poor learning and reduced impulse control. If we can prevent alcohol misuse, chances for a good life are much better,” Weil adds

[Source: Medical News Today]