Long-term alcoholics have a diminished ability to sense others’ emotions, even if they have been sober for years, the Chicago Tribune reports. A new study used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to look at the brain activity of abstinent alcoholics and non-alcoholics while they looked at pictures of faces that expressed positive, neutral, or negative emotions.
Non-alcoholics registered strong activity in the hippocampus and amygdala—which together make up the limbic system—when looking at faces showing either of the strong emotions, and less activity for the neutral emotions. The limbic systems of the abstinent alcoholics, by contrast, registered low activity whether viewing neutral or strong emotion expressions. Further study, the researchers say, is necessary to determine whether alcohol blunts emotional literacy, or if deficits in emotional intelligence lead to alcoholism.