Effects of alcoholism and continued abstinence on brain volumes in both genders

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2011 Sep;35(9):1678-85. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2011.01514.x. Epub 2011 May 20.


Background: Alcohol abuse has detrimental effects on cerebral function, metabolism, and volume. Some of these effects were found to be at least partially reversible with continued abstinence. Furthermore, it has been reported that there are different effects of alcohol on brain volumes for women compared with men, but the results concerning the interaction between alcohol dependence and gender are inconsistent. With this study, we aimed to further investigate this question by examining the global gray matter (GM) and white matter (WM) changes as well as regional and local GM changes detected by voxel-based morphometry (VBM) in male and female alcoholic patients a few weeks after detoxification and the corresponding changes in a subgroup of these patients 3 months later.

Methods: A total of 50 patients, consecutively admitted for alcohol withdrawal treatment, participated in this study and were followed up for at least 3 months into abstinence. High-resolution structural images were processed with SPM8 using an optimized VBM protocol.

Results: Global cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) volume was increased and WM and GM volume decreased equally in male and female patients. A gender by diagnosis interaction was found neither for global nor for regional volumes or VBM data. VBM whole brain analysis yielded a significant GM volume loss in the patient group in the cingulate gyrus and the insula in both hemispheres. Region of interest analysis for the initial and 3 months follow-up scans yielded significant gains in regional volumes, particularly the cingulate gyrus and the insula in the group of abstinent patients, whereas no volume change at all is found in the patients who had relapsed.

Conclusions: Our study confirms widespread cerebral volume loss in recently detoxified alcoholics. The effects of alcohol dependence seem to have equally adverse effects on brain morphometry in males and females.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcoholism / diagnosis
  • Alcoholism / pathology*
  • Alcoholism / rehabilitation*
  • Atrophy
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / adverse effects*
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid / physiology
  • Ethanol / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / pathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / pathology
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Temperance*


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Ethanol