Alcohol Withdrawal Is an Oxidative Stress Challenge for the Brain: Does It Pave the Way toward Severe Alcohol-Related Cognitive Impairment?

Antioxidants (Basel). 2022 Oct 21;11(10):2078. doi: 10.3390/antiox11102078.


Alcohol use is a leading cause of mortality, brain morbidity, neurological complications and minor to major neurocognitive disorders. Alcohol-related neurocognitive disorders are consecutive to the direct effect of chronic and excessive alcohol use, but not only. Indeed, patients with severe alcohol use disorders (AUD) associated with pharmacological dependence suffer from repetitive events of alcohol withdrawal (AW). If those AW are not managed by adequate medical and pharmacological treatment, they may evolve into severe AW, or be complicated by epileptic seizure or delirium tremens (DT). In addition, we suggest that AW favors the occurrence of Wernicke's encephalopathy (WE) in patients with known or unknown thiamine depletion. We reviewed the literature on oxidative stress as a core mechanism in brain suffering linked with those conditions: AW, epileptic seizure, DT and WE. Thus, we propose perspectives to further develop research projects aiming at better identifying oxidative stress brain damage related to AW, assessing the effect of repetitive episodes of AW, and their long-term cognitive consequences. This research field should develop neuroprotective strategies during AW itself or during the periwithdrawal period. This could contribute to the prevention of severe alcohol-related brain damage and cognitive impairments.

Keywords: Wernicke encephalopathy; alcohol brain damage; alcohol use disorder; alcohol withdrawal; cognitive impairment; diathesis; oxidative stress; thiamine.

Publication types

  • Review

Grant support

This research received no external funding.