Reduction of Sensory Sharpening Processes Associated with Chronic Alcoholism
The alcohol withdrawal syndrome can include hallucinations in several modalities. This investigation was based on a multifactorial model of hallucinogenesis in which hallucinations are thought to be related to a number of central and peripheral factors. Lateral inhibition is a sharpening mechanism in sensory transduction, and it would be expected that its’ failure would produce a “noisy” sensory signal. The toxic effects of prolonged exposure to alcohol on this system in combination with personality factors and with other aspects of the withdrawal process might contribute to the development of hallucinations.
We studied auditory threshold shifts in twenty-seven alcoholics, some within a few days of a drinking spree and others after extended periods of sobriety, and in eighteen normal controls. In our normals we were able to replicate a previous demonstration of a ‘Mach Band’ in hearing. This consists of an alteration in sensory threshold at the frequency boundary of the masking stimulus. The alcoholics, as a group, showed less of this ‘Mach Band’ effect. The tendency to show ‘Mach Bands’ was negatively correlated with years of heavy drinking, but not with age, time since last drink or history of hallucinations. These changes were not demonstrable in routine audiometric testing.
KeywordsPeak Height Lateral Inhibition Heavy Drinking Basilar Membrane Auditory Hallucination
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