Background: Chronic misuse of alcohol results in widespread damage to the brain. Prior morphometric studies have examined cortical atrophy in individuals with alcoholism; however, no previous studies have examined alcohol-associated atrophy using cortical thickness measurements to obtain regional mapping of tissue loss across the full cortical surface.
Methods: We compared cortical thickness measures from 31 abstinent individuals with a history of prior alcohol abuse to 34 healthy nonalcoholic control participants (total sample size = 65). Cortical surface models were created from high-resolution T1-weighted images, and cortical thickness was then estimated as the distance between the gray matter/white matter boundary and the outer cortical surface.
Results: Abstinent alcoholics showed reduced whole-brain thickness as compared to nonalcoholic participants. Decreases in thickness were found bilaterally in (i) superior frontal, (ii) precentral, (iii) postcentral, (iv) middle frontal, (v) middle/superior temporal, (vi) middle temporal, and (vii) lateral occipital cortical regions. Decreased cortical thickness in the alcoholic group was associated with severity of alcohol abuse.
Conclusions: These findings demonstrate widespread reduction in cortical thickness as a consequence of chronic alcoholism, with most severe reductions in frontal and temporal brain regions.