Cumulative lifelong alcohol consumption alters auditory brainstem potentials

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2004 Mar;28(3):508-15. doi: 10.1097/01.alc.0000117870.11317.92.


Background: Alcohol is one of the most widely abused substances in the United States and Europe. It is believed that alcohol causes brain damage that may influence the central auditory tracts. Brainstem auditory evoked potentials (BAEPs) are a common method for measuring central auditory pathways. Therefore, the influence of cumulative lifelong alcohol consumption on BAEPs in subjects with normal hearing was investigated both qualitatively and quantitatively.

Methods: BAEPs were measured in 38 male subjects, 19 of whom were head and neck tumor patients with an ECOG (Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group) scale of zero and 19 plastic surgery patients. A self-report questionnaire on alcohol and nicotine consumption together with blood tests and pure tone audiometry were obtained for all subjects before the BAEP measurement.

Results: The alcohol consumption of the head and neck tumor patients corresponded to high-risk, dangerous, and risky alcohol consumption behavior, whereas that of the plastic surgery patients corresponded to risky and low-risk consumption behavior. In this way, a wide spectrum of alcohol consumption was covered. The latency I-V of the high-risk, dangerous, and risky drinkers was found to be significantly delayed compared with low-risk drinkers. A logarithmic relationship between BAEP latencies and cumulative lifelong alcohol consumption was obtained.

Conclusion: Alcohol consumption leads to damage in the brainstem. The logarithmic behavior between BAEP latencies and cumulative lifelong alcohol consumption reveals that even alcohol consumption within the range of low-risk drinkers may alter auditory evoked brainstem potentials significantly.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Brain Stem / drug effects*
  • Brain Stem / physiology
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory, Brain Stem / drug effects*
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory, Brain Stem / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Reaction Time / drug effects*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Risk Factors