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Keywords:

  • Alcoholism;
  • Brain;
  • MRI;
  • Aging;
  • White Matter

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to study in vivo the brains of 49 patients with chronic alcoholism, 3 to 4 weeks postwithdrawal, and 43 normal healthy controls, all right-handed male veterans between the ages of 23 and 70 years. MRI scans were analyzed using semi-automated procedure, which allowed the subcortical regions to be segmented into cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and brain tissue and the cortical regions to be segmented into CSF, gray matter, and white matter. An age regression model was used to examine the effects of alcohol on brain structure, over and above that expected from the normal aging process. The alcoholics exhibited decreased tissue and increased CSF after correcting for aging. In the cortex, there was significant loss of both gray matter and white matter volume. In this sample of alcoholics, no particular cortical region was preferentially affected or spared. Furthermore, brain tissue volume loss increased with advanced age in the alcoholics. In this group of alcoholics there was no relationship between length of illness and age, i.e., the younger alcoholics had as heavy alcohol use histories as did the older alcoholics. Thus, the increased brain tissue loss with advanced age is interpreted as evidence for age-related increase in brain vulnerability to chronic alcohol abuse.