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Alcohol harms women's brains faster than men's

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Although women are generally less likely than men to become dependent on alcohol, they appear to develop alcoholic brain damage more rapidly than men, German researchers report.

Dr. Alexander Diehl told Reuters Health, "There is evidence for a faster progression of the developmental events leading to dependence among female alcoholics -- the telescoping effect -- and an earlier onset of adverse consequences of alcoholism."

To investigate further, Diehl, at the University of Heidelberg in Mannheim, and colleagues studied 42 alcoholic women and 34 alcoholic men who had been admitted for 6 weeks of in-hospital treatment. A comparison group of 82 male and female "controls" were also recruited.

The researchers performed brain CAT scans on the patients at the beginning and end of treatment and once in controls.

The investigators note in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research that the female alcoholics became dependent later than the men but had a more rapid development of dependence.

"Women showed equal alcohol consumption in relation to body weight in the last year and developed equal brain volume reductions as men after a significantly shorter period of alcohol dependence than men," Diehl explained.

Although the loss of brain volume partially reversed over the 6 weeks, it did not reach the level seen in controls.

"Because of the telescoping effect," Diehl concluded, "early diagnosis and early prevention are even more important for women with alcohol problems than for men."

SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, May 2005.

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