Magnetic resonance diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) has revealed the disruption of brain white matter microstructure in normal aging and alcoholism undetectable with conventional structural MR imaging. The metrics of DTI can be useful in establishing the nature of the observed microstructural aberrations. Abnormally low fractional anisotropy (FA), a measure of diffusion orientation and coherence, may result from increased intracellular or extracellular fluid, which would be reflected in complementary high apparent diffusion coefficients (bulk mean diffusivity) and low FA, or from disorganization of fiber structure, which would be reflected in low FA but with a lack of the inverse FA and diffusivity relationship. To test these competing possibilities, we examined 15 alcoholic men and 31 control men with DTI to quantify diffusivity in the genu and splenium of the corpus callosum and centrum semiovale. In addition to the previously observed FA deficits in all the three brain regions, the alcoholics had abnormally high white matter diffusivity values in the genu and centrum. Further, inverse correlations between FA and diffusivity were significant in the genu (r=-0.52, p<0.05) and centrum (r=-0.92, p=0.0001). Multiple regression analyses examining diffusivity and age as predictors of FA identified diffusivity as a significant unique contributor to FA in both regions. These results suggest that decreased orientational coherence of brain white matter in alcoholism is attributable, at least in part, to the accumulation of intracellular and extracellular fluid in excess of that occurring in aging, and that the differential influence of these fluid compartments can vary across brain regions.