Alcohol: Effects on Neurobehavioral Functions and the Brain

Department of Psychiatry, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Neuropsychology Review (Impact Factor: 4.59). 10/2007; 17(3):239-57. DOI: 10.1007/s11065-007-9038-6
Source: PubMed


Alcoholism results from an interplay between genetic and environmental factors, and is linked to brain defects and associated cognitive, emotional, and behavioral impairments. A confluence of findings from neuroimaging, physiological, neuropathological, and neuropsychological studies of alcoholics indicate that the frontal lobes, limbic system, and cerebellum are particularly vulnerable to damage and dysfunction. An integrative approach employing a variety of neuroscientific technologies is essential for recognizing the interconnectivity of the different functional systems affected by alcoholism. In that way, relevant experimental techniques can be applied to assist in determining the degree to which abstinence and treatment contribute to the reversal of atrophy and dysfunction.

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Available from: Marlene Oscar-Berman
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    • "In the mammalian brain the parietal neocortex, the parahippocampal cortex and the hippocampus synergistically play a key role in the fine tuning of spatial memory regulation[2,24]. Heavy alcohol consumption has been associated with changes across several domains of cognition[34,36], with executive functioning and memory domains being the most vulnerable to disruptions by alcohol[35,37]. Binge drinking in young adults (approximately 21 years) is considered to be associated with deficits in cognitive functions linked to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, as well as modifications in memory functions , associated with the temporal lobe[41]. Adolescents examined after a period of three weeks of abstinence revealed a lower verbal learning and poorer visual reproduction[9]. "
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    • "In addition to atypical activation patterns in alcoholics, diminished volumes have been reported for brain structures associated with emotional and social functioning, such as orbitofrontal cortex, rostral anterior cingulate cortex, nucleus accumbens, amygdala, hippocampus, and insula (Makris et al., 2008; Wobrock et al., 2009). These regions, which are part of the " social brain " (Insel and Fernald, 2004) and neural circuitry underlying emotion and reward processing (Schulte et al., 2010), are disproportionately affected in alcoholism (Moselhy et al., 2001; Oscar-Berman and Marinkovic, 2007; Makris et al., 2008). In a study that examined the relationship between DTI-based fiber tracking and fMRI during an emotional Stroop task, Schulte et al. (2012b) found that alcoholics demonstrated poorer Stroop-word performance, suggesting higher emotional interference, and this performance was correlated with lower white-matter integrity in the cingulate and corpus callosum. "
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    ABSTRACT: Long-term chronic alcoholism is associated with disparate and widespread residual consequences for brain functioning and behavior, and alcoholics suffer a variety of cognitive deficiencies and emotional abnormalities. Alcoholism has heterogeneous origins and outcomes, depending upon factors such as family history, age, gender, and mental or physical health. Consequently, the neuropsychological profiles associated with alcoholism are not uniform among individuals. Moreover, within and across research studies, variability among participants is substantial and contributes to characteristics associated with differential treatment outcomes after detoxification. In order to refine our understanding of alcoholism-related impaired, spared, and recovered abilities, we focus on five specific functional domains: (1) memory, (2) executive functions, (3) emotion and psychosocial skills, (4) visuospatial cognition, and (5) psychomotor abilities. Although the entire brain might be vulnerable in uncomplicated alcoholism, the brain systems that are considered to be most at risk are the frontocerebellar and mesocorticolimbic circuitries. Over time, with abstinence from alcohol, the brain appears to become reorganized to provide compensation for structural and behavioral deficits. By relying on a combination of clinical and scientific approaches, future research will help to refine the compensatory roles of healthy brain systems, the degree to which abstinence and treatment facilitate the reversal of brain atrophy and dysfunction, and the importance of individual differences to outcome.
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    • "Heavy alcohol consumption has been associated with deficits across several domains of cognition in adults (Oscar-Berman, 1990, 2000; Parsons & Nixon, 1998; Oscar-Berman & Marinkovic, 2003), with executive functioning and memory domains most vulnerable to disruptions by alcohol (Oscar-Berman & Ellis, 1987; Oscar-Berman & Marinkovic, 2007). Cognitive impairments have been demonstrated under conditions of acute alcohol challenges, in non-drinkers and drinkers, and in populations of binge drinkers, chronic heavy drinkers, alcohol dependent and recently abstinent alcohol dependent individuals (Weissenborn & Duka, 2003; Fillmore et al., 2005; Goudriaan et al., 2007). "
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