Does Early Life Adversity Link to Alcohol Relapse?

Early life adversity is a known risk factor for alcohol consumption. Recent data suggests that alcohol can negatively impact gut health, leading to intestinal permeability. Interestingly, early life adversity can also have a negative impact on gut health. When both are combined, recovery may become more difficult. Let me explain how and why! The biological pathways include immune system activation at the “leaky gut” and then the  passage of microscopic particles (e.g., lipopolysaccharides a.k.a LPS) into portal circulation and eventually to the liver, where more inflammatory processes occur. We now understand that bacterial translocation to the liver is the primary cause of alcoholic liver disease. Who knew liver disease was connected to the gut?

These multiple sources of inflammation (i.e., gut, liver) lead to peripheral inflammation which can lead to low grade systemic inflammation. Interestingly, many people with this condition are not aware they have it, because they are no obvious symptoms. Meanwhile, recent data suggests that some inflammatory mediators (e.g., cytokines) can cross the blood brain barrier and lead to neuroinflammation. Yes, “leaky brain” is a real thing! Therefore, many of the symptoms of unremitting inflammation over time include mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. Who knew mental health was linked to the immune system? Such impaired cognitive states due to compromised brain health may be a risk factor for continual alcohol abuse, or for relapse after abstinence has been achieved. Importantly, early life adversity is connected to many points along this causal chain. Watch the video for more details and for references!

Dr. David Wiss became a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) in 2013 and founded Nutrition in Recovery, a group practice of RDNs specializing in treating eating and substance use disorders. In 2017, David received the “Excellence in Practice” award at the National Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo. The California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics awarded him the “Emerging Dietetic Leader Award” in 2020. He earned his Ph.D. from UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health in the Community Health Sciences department (with a minor in Health Psychology) by investigating the links between adverse childhood experiences and various mental health outcomes among socially disadvantaged men. His treatment philosophy is based on a biopsychosocial model which incorporates an understanding of biological mechanisms, psychological underpinnings, and contextual factors that integrate the social determinants of health. Wise Mind Nutrition is an app-based interactive treatment program available for download now -

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