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Study shows heavy drinking can impair brain function

WASHINGTON — Heavy social drinkers show the same pattern of brain damage as hospitalized alcoholics — enough to impair day-today functioning, researchers said yesterday.

Brain scans show clear damage, and tests of reading, balance, learning and memory show people who drink more than 100 drinks a month have difficulties, the researchers said.

‘‘Socially functioning heavy drinkers often do not recognize that their level of drinking constitutes a problem that warrants treatment,’’ Dr. Peter Martin of Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and Dieter Meyerhoff of the University of California San Francisco wrote in their report.

‘‘The enrollment criterion for heavy drinkers was the consumption of more than an average of 100 alcoholic drinks per month for men over 3 years before the study (80 drinks for women),’’ they wrote in the report, published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

Meyerhoff and Martin examined 46 chronic, heavy drinkers and 52 light drinkers recruited using newspaper ads and flyers. They used magnetic resonance imaging to look at brain structures and measured chemicals associated with healthy brain function.

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