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Dr. Sara Blaine, assistant professor of psychological sciences, recently published a study in one of psychology’s most prominent journals – the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The paper, "Association of Prefrontal-Striatal Functional Pathology with Alcohol Abstinence Days at Treatment Initiation and Heavy Drinking After Treatment Initiation," is based on a study of people with alcohol-use disorders who were starting treatment.

For the paper, Blaine and her co-authors scanned participants' brains using MRI at the beginning of treatment and then used a smartphone app to determine if they resumed drinking within two weeks of abstinence initiation. Some of the participants had been abstinent from alcohol for less than 24 hours, while others had up to five days of sobriety. The study found that alcohol-related disruptions in the brain's response to stress, or alcohol cues, was related to how long it had been since the participants had taken a drink.

"The disruption was in the prefrontal cortex, our brain’s executive control area, which makes saying no to a drink much harder," Blaine said. "We found that the more severe the changes in the prefrontal cortex, the sooner a person would relapse to drinking. But the opposite was also true. With each day of sobriety added, the brain recovers little by little. Thus, we have found neurobiological evidence to support the recovery mantra 'one day at a time.'"

This work was funded by grants from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and was awarded to Blaine and her post-doctoral mentor, Dr. Rajita Sinha, professor at the Yale School of Medicine.

Blaine joined the Department of Psychological Sciences in 2019. Her research examines how genes and neural networks influence the development of alcoholism under conditions of stress.

For more information about Blaine, see her lab website: Auburn University Brain Imaging and Ethanol (AUBIE) Lab, by clicking here.