Prolonged excessive consumption of alcohol has been associated with a variety of cognitive disorders accompanied by neuropathological and neurochemical abnormalities of the brain, particularly in the frontal lobes. Studies with positron emission tomography (PET) have shown decreased local cerebral metabolic rates for glucose (lCMRglc) in frontal regions, with correlated abnormalities on neuropsychological tests sensitive to executive functioning. This investigation was designed as a pilot study to examine the effects of abstinence and relapse in patients with severe chronic alcoholism studied longitudinally with PET and with neuropsychological evaluation to assess both general and executive functioning. Six patients, including 4 who remained relatively abstinent and 2 who relapsed following their initial evaluation, were studied twice, with inter-evaluation intervals ranging from 10 to 32 months. The patients who remained abstinent or who had minimal alcohol use showed partial recovery of lCMRglc in two of three divisions of the frontal lobes and improvement on neuropsychological tests of general cognitive and executive functioning, whereas the patients who relapsed had further declines in these areas. These results, although based upon a relatively small number of subjects, provide preliminary support for at least partial recovery of metabolic and cognitive functioning in individual patients who abstain from alcohol.