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Brains scans suggest women may be neurologically more vulnerable to alcohol than men. The findings, published in the May issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, support previous findings that female alcoholics develop brain damage more readily than male drinkers.

The study included 76 alcoholic women and men and 82 nonalcoholics used as a control group. Computed tomography (CT) scans were performed on the alcoholics at the beginning and end of a six-week inpatient alcohol treatment programme. Those in the control group also received one CT scan.

"We were able to confirm the telescoping course of alcohol dependence in women, meaning faster progression of the developmental events leading to dependence among female alcoholics and an earlier onset of adverse [neurological] consequences," study author Karl Mann, a professor in the department for addictive behaviour and addiction medicine at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, said in a prepared statement. "We also confirmed greater brain atrophy in alcoholic women and men compared to healthy controls," Mann said. "Furthermore, the women developed equal brain-volume reductions as the men after a significantly shorter period of alcohol dependence than the men."

Mann confirmed the findings "corroborate previous studies" showing accelerated alcohol-related decline in women compared to men. That decline includes cognitive deficits, heart and muscle damage and liver disease, "all of which occur earlier in women than in men despite a significantly shorter exposure to alcohol," Mann said. The study did provide some good news for recovering alcoholics, however: according to the German team, brain atrophy appears to at least partially reverse once alcoholics of either gender stop drinking.

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