EEG maps of abstaining vs. relapsing individuals in alcohol recovery

In an alternative to AA, a self-empowering approach can be used to create individualized treatment plans which incorporate greater or fewer relapse prevention approaches to recovery. A self-empowering approach to alcohol recovery emphasizes four main points including: maintaining motivation, coping with urges, managing thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and living a balanced life. By incorporating these four aspects into your daily life, one may have a greater chance for success in alcohol recovery.

Although definitions of relapse vary, it generally refers to a return to former drinking habits after a period of alcohol recovery. Electroencephalography (EEG) measures electrical activity in the brain, and beta wave activity in EEG mapping has been used to predict relapse. Previous EEG mapping of detoxified alcohol dependent individuals show an increase in beta activity; this fast beta activity may illustrate hyper-arousal of the central nervous system after detoxification. Researchers at the University of Vienna in Austria and the University of Wurzburg in Germany compared EEG maps of detoxified alcohol dependent individuals with controls to study differences between relapsing and abstaining individuals during 6 months of relapse prevention therapy supported by either flupentixol or placebo (Saletu-Zyhlarz et. al., 2004).

The researchers recruited 22 detoxified alcohol dependent individuals. Participants included 15 men and 7 women between the ages of 27 and 58. Participants were further divided into 11 abstainers and 11 relapsing individuals and matched with healthy controls according to age and sex. EEG maps were obtained for the participants.

The results showed that all detoxified alcohol dependent individuals exhibited an increase in beta activity and a decrease in delta and slow alpha activity, compared to the controls. Further, these findings were more pronounced in relapsing individuals compared to those who abstained. After 6 months of relapse prevention treatment, the abstainers showed an increase in slow brain wave activity and a decrease in fast alpha activity, which reflected normalization of electrical activity in the brain.

The researchers concluded that EEG maps of alcohol dependent individuals showed significant differences, compared to controls. Thus, EEG mapping may be used for diagnostic purposes in alcohol treatment. Further, EEG mapping be have prognostic value for individuals in alcohol recovery because relapsing individuals showed more pronounced hyper-arousal of the central nervous system. In the future, EEG mapping may even be used to suggest which types of pharmacotherapy or psychotherapeutic interventions might be most helpful in preventing relapse.

“Our findings imply that future investigations of EEG measures in alcoholics concerning aetiopathological explanations as well as therapeutic strategies will have to adopt a more differentiated view of alcohol dependence,” the researchers reported. “EEG maps of alcohol-dependent patients differ significantly from those of normal controls and patients suffering from other mental disorders and thus EEG mapping may be used for diagnostic purposes. Thus, EEG mapping may also be utilized as an objective measure for predicting relapse in chronic alcoholism, and for choosing the optimal drug for a certain patient, as according to a key–lock principle the drug of choice should induce changes opposite to those produced by the disease, thereby normalizing brain function.”

Saletu-Zyhlarz GM, Arnold O, Anderer P, Oberndorfer S, Walter H, Lesch OM, Boning J, Saletu B. Differences in brain function between relapsing and abstaining alcohol dependent patients, evaluated by EEG mapping. Alcohol and Alcoholism. 2004; (39)3: 233-240.

http://alcalc.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/39/3/233