Relationship between brain volumetric changes and interim drinking at six months in alcohol-dependent patients

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2014 Mar;38(3):739-48. doi: 10.1111/acer.12300. Epub 2014 Jan 31.


Background: Chronic alcohol consumption results in brain damage potentially reversible with abstinence. It is however difficult to gauge the degree of recovery of brain tissues with abstinence since changes are subtle and a significant portion of patients relapse. State-of-the-art morphometric methods are increasingly used in neuroimaging studies to detect subtle brain changes at a voxel level. Our aim was to use the most refined morphometric methods to observe in alcohol dependence the relationship between volumetric changes and interim drinking over a 6-month follow-up.

Methods: Overall, 19 patients with alcohol dependence received volumetric T1-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) after detoxification. A 6-month follow-up study was then conducted, during which 11 of them received a second MRI scan. First, correlations were conducted between gray matter (GM) and white matter (WM) volumes of patients at alcohol treatment entry and the amount of alcohol consumed between treatment entry and follow-up. Second, longitudinal analyses were performed from pairs of MRI scans using tensor-based morphometry in the 11 patients, and correlations were computed between the resultant Jacobian maps of GM and WM and interim drinking.

Results: Our preliminary results showed that, among others, alcoholics with smaller thalamus at alcohol treatment entry tended to resume with heavy alcohol consumption (p < 0.005 uncorrected [unc.]). Our longitudinal study revealed an overall inverse relationship between recovery of brain structures like the cerebellum, striatum, and cingulate gyrus, and the amount of alcohol consumed over the 6-month follow-up (p < 0.005 unc.). The recovery could be observed not only with strict abstinence but also in cases of moderate resumption of alcohol consumption, when there had been no drastic relapse into alcohol dependence.

Conclusions: Those preliminary findings indicate that the volume of the thalamus at treatment entry may have an influence on subsequent interim drinking. There is recovery of certain brain regions even when patients resume with moderate, but not drastic, alcohol consumption.

Keywords: Abstinence; Alcohol Dependence; Brain Recovery; Interim Drinking; Tensor-Based Morphometry.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcoholism / pathology*
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Organ Size
  • Thalamus / pathology