Alcohol use disorders (AUDs) are known to adversely impact brain structure and function. Although recovery of brain morphology and function has been reported following abstinence from long-term alcohol use, some structural (e.g., brain area volumes and connections) and functional (e.g., cognitive) abnormalities due to long-term effects of AUDs may persist even after abstinence from alcohol. To further our understanding, scientists assessed the consequences of long-term alcohol use on brain circuitry, structural impairment patterns, and the impact of these impairments on cognitive function among individuals with AUDs who were abstinent.
The scientists examined differences in volumes of brain areas, microstructural integrity of brain tissues, and performance on neuropsychological tests of 60 individuals: 30 individuals with AUDs who were abstinent and 30 healthy individuals without AUDs for comparison.
Despite their abstinence, compared to the healthy comparison group, the AUD group had poorer problem-solving ability, visuospatial memory span, and working memory, as well as smaller mass volumes in three prefrontal cortical areas (i.e., those involved in functions required to execute a task) and hippocampal areas (those involved in memory), and less microstructural integrity in nine white matter regions (connections among brain areas) and in left thalamus (which is involved in information relay). Smaller structural brain volumes and microstructural tissue abnormalities were related to impairments in visuospatial memory (i.e., memory of visually represented spatial relationships of objects)and problem-solving ability among individuals with AUDs. These findings thus demonstrate several persistent long-term structural and functional brain abnormalities in individuals with AUDs, and a relationship between specific structural brain and specific cognitive function abnormalities even after abstinence.