Resting state connectivity best predicts alcohol use severity in moderate to heavy alcohol users

Neuroimage Clin. 2019;22:101782. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2019.101782. Epub 2019 Mar 19.


Background: In the United States, 13% of adults are estimated to have alcohol use disorder (AUD). Most studies examining the neurobiology of AUD treat individuals with this disorder as a homogeneous group; however, the theories of the neurocircuitry of AUD call for a quantitative and dimensional approach. Previous imaging studies find differences in brain structure, function, and resting-state connectivity in AUD, but few use a multimodal approach to understand the association between severity of alcohol use and the brain differences.

Methods: Adults (ages 22-60) with problem drinking patterns (n = 59) completed a behavioral and neuroimaging protocol at the National Institutes of Health. Alcohol severity was quantified with the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT). In a 3 T MRI scanner, participants underwent a structural MRI as well as resting-state, monetary incentive delay, and face matching fMRI scans. Machine learning was applied and trained using the neural data from MRI scanning. The model was tested for generalizability in a validation sample (n = 24).

Results: The resting state-connectivity features model best predicted AUD severity in the naïve sample, compared to task fMRI, structural MRI, combined MRI features, or demographic features. Network connectivity features between salience network, default mode network, executive control network, and sensory networks explained 33% of the variance associated with AUDIT in this model.

Conclusions: These findings indicate that the neural effects of AUD vary according to severity. Our results emphasize the utility of resting state fMRI as a neuroimaging biomarker for quantitative clinical evaluation of AUD.

Keywords: Alcohol use disorder; Connectivity; Imaging; MRI; Machine learning; Multimodal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcoholism / diagnostic imaging*
  • Alcoholism / physiopathology*
  • Connectome / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Machine Learning*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Neurological
  • Nerve Net / diagnostic imaging
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology*
  • Severity of Illness Index*
  • Young Adult