Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

Effects of abstinence on brain morphology in alcoholism: A MRI study

By Thomas Wobrock, Peter Falkai, Thomas Schneider-Axmann, Nicole Frommann, Wolfgang Wölwer and Wolfgang Gaebel


Chronic alcohol abuse leads to morphological changes of the brain. We investigated if these volumetric changes are reversible after a period of abstinence. For this reason 41 male and 15 female alcohol patients underwent MRI-scanning after in-patient detoxification (baseline) entering alcoholism treatment programs, and between 6 and 9 months later (follow-up), in a phase of convalescence. Additionally, 29 male and 16 female control subjects were examined. The MRI-scans were delineated and the resulting regions of interest, volumes of lateral ventricles and prefrontal lobes were expressed relatively to total brain volume. Compared to control subjects alcohol patients showed bilaterally decreased prefrontal lobes (11% reduction) and increased lateral ventricles (up to 42% enlargement). The extent of the ventricular increase was depending on patient’s additional psychiatric diagnosis, showing smaller lateral ventricles in patients with additional personality disorder. While at follow-up the size of prefrontal lobes remained unchanged, volumes of the lateral ventricles decreased (5–6% reduction) in alcohol patients with abstinence and improved drinking behavior, especially in patients that underwent only one detoxification. The extent of the ventricular enlargement correlated with the elevation of alcohol related laboratory measures (mean corpuscular volume, gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase). In conclusion this study confirms the hypothesis that alcoholism causes brain damages that are partially reversible. It should be analyzed in further studies with larger sample sizes, if complete brain regeneration is possible maintaining abstinence over a longer period

Topics: Original Paper
Publisher: Steinkopff-Verlag
OAI identifier:
Provided by: PubMed Central

Suggested articles


  1. (1989). A prospective multicenter study on inpatient treatment for alcoholics: 18- and 48-months follow-up.
  2. (2005). Alcoholic neurobiology: changes in dependence and recovery.
  3. (1987). Bliding A ˚, Mubrin Z
  4. (2006). Brain atrophy in long-term abstinent alcoholics who demonstrate impairment on a simulated gambling task.
  5. (2007). Brain morphometry and cognitive performance in detoxified alcohol-dependents with preserved psychosocial functioning.
  6. (2004). Brain volumes, RBC status, and hepatic function in alcoholics after 1 and 4 weeks of sobriety: predictors of outcome.
  7. (2005). Chronic active heavy drinking and family history of problem drinking modulate regional brain tissue volumes.
  8. (1999). Cognitive impairment and cerebral atrophy in ‘‘heavy drinkers’’.
  9. (1991). Computerized tomographic study on the brain of patients with alcohol dependence.
  10. (2007). Deformation-based morphometry of brain changes in alcohol dependence and abstinence.
  11. (1995). Disturbed planum temporale asymmetry in schizophrenia. A quantitative postmortem study.
  12. (1992). Do women develop alcoholic brain damage more readily than men?
  13. (1991). Effects of substance abuse on ventricular and sulcal measures assessed by computerised tomography.
  14. (1997). Frontal lobe volume loss observed with magnetic resonance imaging in older chronic alcoholics.
  15. (2007). Gray matter volume abnormalities and externalizing symptoms in subjects at high risk for alcohol dependence.
  16. (1991). If you drink your brain will shrink. Neuropathological considerations. Alcohol Alcohol Suppl 1:375–380
  17. (1984). Increased cerebral ventricular volume in monozygotic twins discordant for alcoholism.
  18. (1989). Influence of improved drinking habits on brain atrophy and cognitive performance in alcoholic patients: a 5-year follow-up study.
  19. (1979). Intraclass correlations: uses in assessing rater reliability.
  20. (2007). Manifestation of early brain recovery associated with abstinence from alcoholism.
  21. (2000). Meta-analysis of regional brain volumes in schizophrenia.
  22. (1995). Neuroimaging in alcoholism: CT and MRI results and clinical correlates.
  23. (2001). Out-patient behaviour therapy in alcoholism: impact of personality disorders and cognitive impairments.
  24. (2001). Out-patient behaviour therapy in alcoholism: relapse rates after 6 months.
  25. (2002). Outpatient behaviour therapy in alcoholism: treatment outcome after 2 years.
  26. (2000). Pfefferbaum A
  27. (2008). Prefrontal cortex volumes in adolescents with alcohol use disorders: unique gender effects.
  28. (2005). Reduced hippocampal volume among adolescents with alcohol use disorders without psychiatric comorbidity.
  29. (1990). Reduced temporal limbic structure volumes on magnetic resonance images in first episode schizophrenia. Psychiatry Res (Neuroimaging)
  30. (1981). Regional cerebral blood flow during alcohol withdrawal.
  31. (2001). Sex differences in the effects of alcohol on brain Structure.
  32. (1995). Significant reversibility of alcohol brain shrinkage within 3 weeks of abstinence.
  33. (2000). SPSS 10.0 guide to data analysis.
  34. (1995). The neurobiology of alcoholism.
  35. (1998). Transient frontal hypoperfusion in Tc-99 hexamethylpropyleneamineoxime single photon emission tomography imaging during alcohol withdrawal.

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.