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A Study Suggests that Alcoholics Have Problems with EQ

A few months ago, the LA Times ran an article relating to a study about alcoholics. Specifically, the study focused on an alcoholic’s sense of emotions including how they reacted to faces and how easy it is for alcoholics to feel out other people’s emotions from facial expressions.

The results were unusual- alcoholics, even when they are not drinking, have a much harder time reading people’s emotions than everybody else. This isn’t due to any inherent flaw in an alcoholic, but a difference in the brain’s reaction in the area of hippocampus and the amygdala. Usually, these areas light up after seeing someone’s face, but this doesn’t necessarily happen in the typical alcoholic.

The study compared 15 non-drinking alcoholics and 15 “drinking alcoholics” to determine how they reacted in their brains while answering questions about pictures of faces that were put in from of faces with varying expressions.  The results were measured using MRI technology. In the cases of the alcoholics who were still drinking, the researchers did not find much difference in the reactions to positive or neutral facial expressions.

The researchers were pleased with the results, but caution that the study did not determine if the alcoholics had that cognitive functioning before or after they started drinking; one researcher called it a “chicken and egg” situation as it was impossible to determine from the results which came first. The implications of this may mean that the inability to read faces could be seen as a precursor to alcoholism in children to alcoholic parents, but again, the results were inconclusive. It could also mean that drinking alcohol lessened this cognitive ability in alcoholics.

Unfortunately for severe alcoholics, it means that not only do they have a harder time dealing with their friends and families when they are drinking, their relationships are also affected when they are not drinking. If someone who has a problem with alcohol loses some of their cognitive functioning in relation to their EQ ability, times of sobriety will still be tough as they struggle to understand people's emotions.

For me, the amazing part of the study is that after an alcoholic has stopped drinking for some time (the article did not specify how long), the brain could re-wire itself to a certain extent and regain some of its lost functioning.