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Keywords:

  • Alcohol Dependence;
  • Structural MRI;
  • Brain Shrinkage;
  • Gray Matter;
  • Aging

Background:  We previously demonstrated, in a small sample, steeper age-related gray matter shrinkage in treatment naïve alcohol-dependent (TxN) men compared to nonalcoholic controls, but could not separate out the contributions of age and lifetime duration of alcohol use (which were highly correlated) to this effect. In the current study, we have quadrupled the sample size and expanded it to include both men and women to try to replicate and extend the previous findings and to separate the contributions of age and alcohol use to the phenomenon.

Methods:  In the current study, we examine cortical gray matter volumes in 18- to 50-year-old TxN (n = 84) versus age and gender comparable controls (n = 67). We used a new Region of Interest Analysis method which accounts for differences in sulcal and gyral enfolding between individuals (Fein et al., 2009a).

Results:  We found greater age-related gray matter shrinkage in TxN than in controls. Partial correlation analysis showed that the effect was a function of age and not lifetime alcohol burden.

Conclusions:  Implications of the findings are discussed in terms of their contribution toward our knowledge of differences between different subpopulations of alcoholics and in terms of their implications for the morbidity of alcohol dependence in an aging national population.