Neurocognitive deficits in alcoholics and social drinkers: a continuum?

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 1998 Jun;22(4):954-61.


Our research program has investigated neurocognitive deficits in sober alcoholics for several decades. We have shown that both male and female adult alcoholics--compared with peer nonalcoholic controls--have deficits on tests of learning, memory, abstracting, problem-solving, perceptual analysis and synthesis, speed of information processing, and efficiency. The deficits are equivalent to those found in patients with known brain dysfunction of a mild to moderate nature. Attempts to identify factors other than alcoholism to account for these differences have been unsuccessful. The deficits appear to remit slowly over 4 to 5 years. Relapse of recovering alcoholics is predicted by behavioral (e.g., depressive symptoms and neurocognitive performance) and biological measures (e.g., event-related potentials) obtained at the end of treatment. Results of recent studies support the hypothesis of a continuum of neurocognitive deficits ranging from the severe deficits found in Korsakoff patients to moderate deficits found in alcoholics and moderate to mild deficits in heavy social drinkers (more than 21 drinks/week). Individual differences in the presence and magnitude of neurocognitive deficits in social drinkers and alcoholics are hypothesized to be due, in part, to individual differences in vulnerability of the brain to alcohol or its metabolites' toxic effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Amnestic Disorder / diagnosis
  • Alcohol Amnestic Disorder / psychology
  • Alcohol Amnestic Disorder / rehabilitation
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology
  • Alcoholism / diagnosis*
  • Alcoholism / psychology
  • Alcoholism / rehabilitation
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests*
  • Recurrence