Significant reversibility of alcoholic brain shrinkage within 3 weeks of abstinence

Acta Psychiatr Scand. 1995 Aug;92(2):87-90. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0447.1995.tb09548.x.


Chronic alcoholism is often associated with brain shrinkage or atrophy. During recent years, it has been demonstrated that this shrinkage is, at least in part, reversible when abstinence is maintained. There are different hypotheses concerning the mechanisms for this reversibility, but many questions are still open. Especially the time conditions for these reversible changes are subject of discussion. Twenty-eight male patients with severe alcohol dependence were investigated in a computed tomographic study at the beginning of abstinence and 3 weeks later. Planimetric evaluation of 5 selected slices revealed a significant decrease in liquor areas and an increase of brain volume. The densitometric analysis showed an increase in brain tissue density. In a multiple regression approach it was shown that the reversibility was mostly influenced by the age of the patients. Our results support neither the hypothesis of an increase in brain water as the most important principle for reversibility in alcoholic brain shrinkage nor the hypothesis of augmented dendritic growth. Other mechanisms like reduced (during chronic intoxication) and normalized (during abstinence) cerebral hemoperfusion have to be considered as possible mechanisms for the reversibility of alcoholic brain shrinkage.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcoholism / rehabilitation*
  • Atrophy
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Temperance*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed