Seventeen severe chronic alcoholic patients with and without Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS) were examined prospectively after being treated by withdrawal from alcohol. The WKS patients also received thiamine supplements. Three-dimensional measurements of local cerebral blood flow (LCBF) and local partition coefficients (L lambda) were made utilizing xenon contrast computed tomography (Xe CT-CBF). Results were displayed as color-coded brain maps before and after treatment and these were correlated with neurological and cognitive examinations. Before treatment chronic alcoholics without WKS (n = 10) showed diffuse reductions of LCBF values throughout all gray matter including hypothalamus, vicinity of nucleus basalis of Meynert, thalamus, and basal ganglia. Similar, but more severe, reductions were seen in patients with WKS (n = 7), however, white matter perfusion was also reduced. In WKS, most prominent reductions of LCBF were also seen in hypothalamus and basal forebrain nuclei but thalamus, basal ganglia, and limbic systems were severely reduced. After treatment, both groups with alcoholic encephalopathy showed marked clinical improvement and cerebral perfusion was restored toward normal. Chronic alcohol abuse, in the absence of thiamine deficiency, reduces CBF by direct neurotoxic effects. If thiamine deficiency is also present, more severe and localized hemodynamic reductions are superimposed.