Alcoholics Have Poor Sense of Smell

Poor sense of smell among alcoholics associated with brain dysfunction

Prior research has shown that chronic alcoholism is associated with numerous sense of smell deficits in aroma judgment, aroma identification, aroma sensitivity, and the ability to compare one aroma to another.

New findings indicate that sense of smell deficits among alcoholics are associated with thinking dysfunction, specifically, impairment in the function of the prefrontal lobe of the brain.

Results are published in the August issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"Given that alcohol can cause brain damage and dysfunction in various brain regions, and that psychological tasks such as decision functions and memory may represent sensitive measures of the unity of these brain areas, we were interested in whether sense of smell deficits in alcohol dependence are related to decisonal dysfunctions or memory impairments," she said.

"We found that the alcoholics, when compared to the non-alcoholics, were impaired in all three domains investigated: sense of smell functions, decisional function, and memory," said Rupp. "We also found that impairments in all three domains appear resistant to early recovery after alcohol drinking stopped. Furthermore, sense of smell discrimination shortages appear to be associated with decision function impairment.

Rupp said that her findings help support the theory that the front part of the brain are particularly vulnerable to alcoholism-related damage, and that dysfunction in this region may play a significant role in alcoholism and other drug addictions. "Our findings add to the mounting evidence for frontal lobe dysfunction in alcoholism, which may be involved in the development of addiction, may mediate recovery in persons with alcohol-use disorders, and may play a key role in understanding the neurobiology of alcoholism," she said.

Rupp added that her study’s findings raise some serious clinical concerns. "Sense of smell dysfunction can seriously impair people in their day-to-day activities and occupation, increase their risk of injury or even death, and reduce their overall quality of life," she said.

"These deficits may not only reduce patients’ enjoyment of foods, but may also place them at risk for long term nutritional or ill health condition. Individuals may alter food choices and intake, resulting in weight loss, challenged immunity and impaired nutritional status all of which are commonly observed in patients with chronic alcoholism.

Nutritional deficiencies, moreover, also have notorious deleterious effects on brain structure and psychological functioning. Future research needs to investigate the functional impact of sense of smell dysfunction in alcohol dependence."

How is your sense of smell?

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