Structural neuroimaging correlates of alcohol and cannabis use in adolescents and adults

Addiction. 2017 Dec;112(12):2144-2154. doi: 10.1111/add.13923. Epub 2017 Aug 1.


Background and aims: Chronic alcohol use is associated with lower gray matter volume, and we reported recently that alcohol use showed negative associations with widespread gray matter (GM) volume even among young adults. The current study aimed to test the strength of association between (1) alcohol use and GM volume; (2) alcohol use and white matter (WM) integrity; (3) cannabis use and GM volume; and (4) cannabis use and WM integrity among adults and adolescents.

Design and setting: General linear models within large pooled cross-sectional samples of adolescents and adults who had participated in studies collecting substance use and neuroimaging data in the southwestern United States.

Participants: The current analysis included adults aged 18-55 years (n = 853) and adolescents aged 14-18 years (n = 439) with a range of alcohol and cannabis use.

Measurements: The dependent variable was GM volume or WM integrity, with key predictors of alcohol use [Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) score] and cannabis use (past 30-day use).

Findings: Alcohol use showed large clusters of negative associations (ηp2 = 0.028-0.145, P < 0.001) with GM volume among adults and to a lesser extent (one cluster; ηp2 = 0.070, P < 0.05) among adolescents. Large clusters showed significant associations (ηp2 = 0.050-0.124, P < 0.001) of higher alcohol use with poorer WM integrity, whereas adolescents showed no significant associations between alcohol use and WM. No associations were observed between structural measures and past 30-day cannabis use in adults or adolescents.

Conclusions: Alcohol use severity is associated with widespread lower gray matter volume and white matter integrity in adults, and with lower gray matter volume in adolescents.

Keywords: Adolescents; adults; alcohol use; cannabis use; diffusion tensor imaging; neuroimaging; voxel-based morphometry.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Alcohol Drinking / pathology
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology*
  • Alcoholism / pathology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Gray Matter / diagnostic imaging
  • Gray Matter / drug effects*
  • Gray Matter / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Marijuana Abuse / epidemiology*
  • Marijuana Abuse / pathology
  • Marijuana Use / pathology
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuroimaging / methods*
  • Organ Size
  • Southwestern United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult