Serial longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging data indicate non-linear regional gray matter volume recovery in abstinent alcohol-dependent individuals

Addict Biol. 2015 Sep;20(5):956-67. doi: 10.1111/adb.12180. Epub 2014 Aug 29.


The trajectory of regional volume changes during the first year of sustained abstinence in those recovering from an alcohol use disorder is unclear because previous research typically employed only two assessment points. To better understand the trajectory of regional brain volume recovery in treatment-seeking alcohol-dependent individuals (ALC), regional brain volumes were measured after 1 week, 1 month and 7.5 months of sustained abstinence via magnetic resonance imaging at 1.5 T. ALC showed significant volume increases in frontal, parietal and occipital gray matter (GM) and white matter (WM), total cortical GM and total lobar WM, thalamus and cerebellum, and decreased ventricular volume over 7.5 months of abstinence. Volume increases in regional GM were significantly greater over 1 week to 1 month than from 1 month to 7.5 months of abstinence, indicating a non-linear rate of change in regional GM over 7.5 months. Overall, regional lobar WM showed linear volume increases over 7.5 months. With increasing age, smoking ALC showed lower frontal and total cortical GM volume recovery than non-smoking ALC. Despite significant volume increases, ALC showed smaller GM volumes in all regions, except the frontal cortex, than controls after 7.5 months of abstinence. ALC and controls showed no regional WM volume differences at any assessment point. In non-smoking ALC only, increasing regional GM and WM volumes were related to improving processing speed. Findings may indicate a differential rate of recovery of cell types/cellular components contributing to GM and WM volume during early abstinence, and that GM volume deficits persist after 7.5 months of sustained sobriety in this ALC cohort.

Keywords: Alcohol use disorders; brain volume; cigarette smoking; cognition; recovery.

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Abstinence*
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / physiopathology
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / therapy*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Gray Matter / anatomy & histology*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Organ Size
  • San Francisco / epidemiology
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Smoking / physiopathology
  • Veterans / statistics & numerical data