Trouble Applying New Knowledge for Alcoholics

Alcoholism linked to reduced ability to apply knowledge to new contexts

(RxWiki News) Continuous excessive drinking can cause changes in the brain related to functional and physiological activity - which may hinder alcoholics’ ability to process information, and, importantly, to stop drinking.

The research suggests that people who have alcohol dependence (AD) have problems transferring and applying new knowledge to additional contexts. The lack of ability to apply knowledge to new situations may also hurt their ability to quit drinking.

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"AD individuals often have problems applying the knowledge they acquire during psychotherapy to later prevention of drinking relapses in real life," explains Martina Rustemeier, M.Sc., research associate in the department of neuropsychology at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany.

Alcoholics are taught skills during hospitalization and psychotherapy that can help them to better cope with their problems and difficulties - stressful things that may have previously caused them to drink. It seems that they can learn these new skills but have trouble reapplying them to new situations outside of treatment.

The study assessed the learning and transfer abilities of 44 people, 24 of which (19 men, 5 women) were recently released from an alcohol detoxification program. The other 20 people (11 men, 9 women) did not have an alcohol dependence.

The team assessed learning performance and transfer performance during a series of learning tests. They also examined associations between alcohol use, depression, and personality traits.

"Clinicians and therapists should consider this finding during therapy because it can explain why AD individuals have problems applying learned techniques to prevent drinking relapse outside the clinical setting," said Rustemeier. "They have difficulties in permanently changing their behavior. Therefore, to prevent drinking relapses, adequate and successful reinforcers are necessary."

The study will be published in the June 2012 issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research

Review Date: 
March 13, 2012