The authors assessed the relationship between ventricular enlargement, cortical atrophy, regional brain glucose metabolism, and neuropsychologic performance in 10 alcoholics and 10 control subjects. Regional brain glucose metabolism was measured with fluorine-18 fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) and positron emission tomography (PET). Cortical atrophy and ventricular size were evaluated quantitatively with magnetic resonance (MR) imaging. Alcoholics had decreased brain glucose metabolism and more cortical atrophy but did not have significantly greater ventricular size than did control subjects. The degree of ventricular enlargement and of cortical atrophy was associated with decreased metabolism predominantly in the frontal cortices and subcortical structures in both alcoholics and control subjects. There were no significant correlations between neuropsychologic performance and MR imaging structural changes, whereas various subtest scores were significantly correlated with frontal lobe metabolism. These data show that F-18 FDG PET is a sensitive technique for detecting early functional changes in the brain due to alcohol and/or aging before structural changes can be detected with MR imaging.