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Volume 20, Number 2, June 2009

photo of Fulton Crews, PhD
Dr. Fulton T. Crews
Director, Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies

This issue of the Center Line reflects the broad spectrum of health effects of alcohol. Our Center’s faculty cover areas including fetal development, medical screening for heavy drinking and appropriate interventions, and biological mechanisms of anxiety and mood that can change how individuals interact. Each of these is complex. A positive attitude and happiness are among the most important aspects of health. If moderate alcohol consumption triggers brain adaptation increasing anxiety and negative mood, this could promote heavier drinking contributing to progressive increases in drinking, a key element of progressing to dependence. Subtle changes over time are difficult or impossible to track in humans who have widely varied moods, experiences, genetics and environments that regulate these states. In animals, these are all controlled. Subtle persistent changes in mood due to repeated withdrawals from drinking, drinking and stress, as well as drinking and inflammation stress could markedly alter the life course. These factors increase anxiety and negative mood that may promote relapse.

Understanding the mechanisms of anxiety and persistent changes in mood will help many who suffer from anxiety in alcohol dependence and many other brain pathologies associated with anxiety. It is not clear if fetal exposure alters the subsequent mood of offspring, but it is clear alcohol can harm the fetus and prevention can stop it. Science 360 is directed at school children, but physician education of patients is also important. Our center uses all approaches, basic mechanisms of brain adaptation coupled with prevention messages for youth and adults. Hopefully, one or all will improve health.