Alcoholics acting like aliens: disconnected brain blood flow?

Mr. Osbourne, (via Wikimedia Commons)

Well, Sharon’s moved out, and Ozzie says it’s because he’s back to his addictive ways, despite even getting his genome mapped.

No wonder Mrs. Osbourne moved out. Your loyal bloggist has dealt with too many recovering/denial/current alcoholics, and –to a person– they seem to have an alien being inside them. Very tough to deal with.  But, people ingest a lot of different things into their bodies. Why is it that alcohol/drugs changes personality?

According to a recent report, recovering alcoholic men have brain blood flow disconnects between parts of the brain involved in actually acting like a human. (Our interpretation). Compared to controls, the alcoholic test subjects showed impaired blood flow to and from the insula so that “Connectivity analysis identified activation synchrony from an insula seed to salience nodes (parietal, medial frontal, anterior cingulate cortices) in control subjects only.”

The paper:  Sullivan, E.V. et al., “A selective insular perfusion deficit contributes to compromised salince network connectivity in recovering alcoholic men,” Biological Psychiatry, In Press, published on line 04.15.2013

Now, all the current/recovering alcoholics we know clearly have emotional blind spots. One thing they have in common is what we call “negative attributional bias” in that they view neutral behavior as someone out to get them. Sort of paranoia-lite (or, “If I’m drunk, you’re a jerk,” here). One report is that it’s automatic — you automatically “feel” someone is out to get you, rather than thinking about it (here). Maybe it’s this brain blood flow beaver-dam in the insula that has something to do with this.

So, why would there be blood flow disconnects? One reason might just be tissue damage from the EtOH forming aldehydes in the brain. If your brain is pickled, the tissue isn’t in dynamic equilibrium, growing, shrinking, neurons aren’t making new connections, pruning the old ones. One interesting paper proposes transposable elements — little bits of jumping DNAs that jump in and out of your genomic DNA — that seem to be prevalent in alcoholism. (Here).

On the other hand, maybe when the recovering/current alcoholics in our life rage to us that they know we’re looking at them accusingly, they’re right.