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The extent of structural brain damage and related cognitive deficits has been little described in alcohol-dependent individuals with preserved social functioning. Thus, we investigated the relationship between regional alterations, executive performance, and drinking history. Volumes of gray and white matter were assessed using magnetic resonance imaging voxel-based morphometry in healthy men and in detoxified alcohol-dependent men with good psychosocial functioning. Their executive performance was assessed using neuropsychological tests. Regression analyses were carried out in the regions in which volume differences were detected. Decreases in gray matter were detected bilaterally in alcohol-dependents in the dorsolateral frontal cortex (up to 20% lower), and to a lesser extent in the temporal cortex, insula, thalamus, and cerebellum. Decreases in white matter volume were widespread, being up to 10% in corpus callosum. The degradation of neuropsychological performance correlated with gray matter volume decreases in the frontal lobe, insula, hippocampus, thalami and cerebellum, and with white matter decrease in the brainstem. An early age at first drinking was associated with decreased gray matter volumes in the cerebellum, brainstem (pons), and frontal regions. Regional alteration in gray and white matter volume was associated with impairment of executive function despite preserved social and somatic functioning in detoxified patients. Besides involving frontal regions, these findings are consistent with a cerebello-thalamo-cortical model of impaired executive functions in alcohol-dependent individuals.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





429 - 438


Alcoholism, Atrophy, Brain, Brain Damage, Chronic, Brain Mapping, Central Nervous System Depressants, Cognition, Cognition Disorders, Ethanol, Humans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Middle Aged, Nerve Degeneration, Nerve Fibers, Myelinated, Neural Pathways, Neurons, Neuropsychological Tests, Prefrontal Cortex, Social Behavior, Substance Withdrawal Syndrome