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Pictoral Proof of Brain Damage Caused by Cocaine and Alcohol
Seen in New Quantitative EEG Studies
BEAM Study Provides New Light on Brain Disorders

Source: PR Newswire

NEW YORK, Oct. 8 /PRNewswire/ via Individual Inc. -- Measurements of "brain waves" using state-of-the-art quantitative electroencephalography (QEEG) -- or brain electrical activity mapping (BEAM) demonstrate that both cocaine and alcohol abuse/dependence significantly worsen such pre-existing brain abnormalities as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), major depression, mental distress, anxiety disorder, and paranoid schizophrenia, according to medical research by Eric R. Braverman, M.D.*, and Kenneth Blum, Ph.D.**, both affiliated with the PATH Foundation, a not-for-profit scientific foundation, of Princeton, New Jersey.

Computer analysis of electroencephalogram (EEG) measurements enabled the researchers to create colorful "maps" of the brain which clearly and dramatically show the damage caused by substance abuse. Moreover, the study -- published in the quarterly issue of Clinical Electroencephalography (October 1996) -- found that the greater the abuse, the greater the measurable brain disturbances.

The Current Surge in Substance Abuse

"As the problems of drug abuse and its consequences are the focus of increasing concern in our society, this may be an area in which clinical neurophysiology can beneficially impact a major public health problem," writes Miles E. Drake, Jr., MD, Chief Editor of the official Journal of the American Medical Electroencephalographic Association in an editorial accompanying the article.

The QEEG-generated maps of damaged brains are in sharp contrast to those of brains which have not been subjected to either cocaine or alcohol abuse. According to Drs. Braverman and Blum, since they are relatively easy, quick and potentially inexpensive to administer, QEEG or BEAM studies could be used to identify substance abusers and various methods for rehabilitation. Like an electrocardiogram (EKG), the QEEG procedure is non-invasive and causes no pain or discomfort. Unlike other brain imaging techniques, it can be administered in a doctor's office.

Until substance abuse causes catastrophic complications, other brain imaging techniques such as CAT scans, MRI imaging, and neurologic examinations are of limited value in spotting brain damage. "Seeing the damage to their own brain on a BEAM test, combined with early identification of brain abnormalities, could be a powerful communications tool on starting substance abusers on the path towards successful rehabilitation," Dr. Braverman observed.

In this investigation, Drs. Braverman and Blum studied 111 people divided into three groups after extensive testing using a battery of well-validated assessments, several interviews by substance-abuse specialists, review of medical histories, and medical examinations. There were no significant differences among the three groups in terms of gender and mean age.

The control group was comprised of 16 individuals who had not abused alcohol or drugs and were not psychiatrically ill. The next group was made up of 34 psychiatrically ill patients who had not abused alcohol or drugs.

Abuse and Dependence

In the third group were 61 psychiatrically ill patients who also suffered from substance abuse disorder -- cocaine and alcohol abuse and/or dependence. Of these 61 patients, 19 (31%) were alcohol abusers; 23 (38%) were alcohol dependent; and 19 (31%) were cocaine dependent [10 patients (16%)] and cocaine abusers [9 (15%)]. None of these patients had used drugs for at least four weeks prior to the BEAM test.

All 111 patients were analyzed using the same QEEG equipment to measure a total of 51 parameters. The BEAM and EEGs were read by independent experts who had no prior knowledge of the subjects' diagnoses. All groups received total brain map analysis. This study demonstrated that there are increased brain disturbances in substance abusers and dependents which can be identified and measured using the QEEG tools. These disturbances are not found in as great a number of non-substance abusers with similar psychiatric problems.

While not all of the 51 parameters of the BEAM revealed significant differences among the three groups, many were specific for brain abnormalities in non-substance-abusing psychiatric patients and in the substance-abusers. The drug abusing group had the greatest number of total brain abnormalities. Moreover, increasing abnormalities were observed in the more severe substance abuser/dependents compared to the normal controls.

The Colors of Brain Damage

Comparing brain maps from each of the three groups demonstrates the significant differences among them. In a typical normal subject, the brain appears consistently dark blue-black in color, indicating stable brain activity and, probably, normal brain metabolism.

In a depressed patient who is not a substance-abuser, the right frontal temporal portion of the brain appears bright white-blue. This abnormality is typical of individuals with depression, which is characterized by mood swings, fatigue, anxiety, and stress.

In the substance-abusing depressed patient, both frontal temporal portions of the brain appear bright white-blue. This brain map is also commonly seen in substance-abusing patients with a history of violence. Major depression accompanied by substance abuse not only produces the most severe brain abnormalities, but is also associated with an extremely high rate of suicide.

Other work by Drs. Braverman and Blum, as well as by other researchers, suggests that a mentally ill population -- including teens and adults -- have strongly disturbed brain waves even prior to their substance abuse. This study again documents that the mentally ill population have brain electrical and chemical imbalances. At the same time, other researchers have also reported that when substance-abusers stop using the drugs, some of the brain damage may be permanent and is similar in pattern to that which is found in many Alzheimer's patients.

Genetics and Brain Mapping

Additionally, Drs. Blum and Braverman are pioneers in the field of pharmacogenetics -- the study of the effects of genetic factors on individual responses to drugs and alcohol. Presently, they are investigating the link between genetics and BEAM. It is anticipated that this work will help answer further questions about the relationship between heredity and drug abuse.

But even without further research, the authors suggest that "since cocaine and alcohol abuse/dependence clearly exacerbates electrophysiological brain abnormalities in psychiatrically ill patients...young people provided with this information should increase their perceived risks of dependence on alcohol, cocaine, and probably other psychoactive chemicals." Perhaps, the scientists speculate, "if young people can see that drug abuse really can 'fry' their brains, they won't jump into that destructive lifestyle. Maybe we can stem the plague."

NOTE: An electroencephalogram (EEG) is a graphic recording of minute electrical impulses arising from activity of cells in the brain. The impulses, when amplified, move an electromagnetic pen that records the brain waves. EEGs are widely used in studying brain function; they are particularly valuable in diagnosing seizures, sleep disorders, headache, head trauma, and other diseases of the brain.

In this study, Drs. Braverman and Blum used a more sophisticated approach known as QEEG. There are several ways to display QEEG data, one of which is known as "brain electrical activity mapping" -- or BEAM. BEAM is a brain stress test using light, sound, cognition, and electrical stimulation to generate dramatic pictures of total brain health. While many scientists prefer to use statistical presentations of BEAM data, data presented as a "brain map" enables the layperson to easily recognize the significant differences between the abnormal and normal brain.

* Eric R. Braverman, M.D., Founder, PATH Foundation, Princeton, NJ; Department of Psychiatry, New York University School of Medicine, New York, NY;.

** Kenneth Blum, Ph.D., Director of Research, PATH Foundation; Princeton, NJ; Research Professor, Department of Behavioral Sciences, University of Texas -- Houston, School of Public Health, San Antonio, TX

SOURCE American Medical Electroencephalographic Association

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[10-08-96 at 09:30 EDT, PR Newswire]