Brain Volumes, RBC Status, and Hepatic Function in Alcoholics After 1 and 4 Weeks of Sobriety: Predictors of Outcome

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The authors asked if hematological indices of RBC status and hepatic function in newly sober alcoholic men are related to abnormalities in brain morphology, change with normalization of brain function during short-term sobriety, and predict prolonged sobriety.


Alcoholic men received brain magnetic resonance imaging and laboratory assessments on admission and before discharge from an inpatient treatment program. Healthy comparison men were similarly tested.


On admission, RBC count, hemoglobin level, and hematocrit were significantly lower in alcoholic subjects than comparison subjects; mean corpuscular volume, SGOT, SGPT, and γ-glutamyl transpeptidase were significantly higher. By discharge, all measures had improved, although RBC count, mean corpuscular volume, and γ-glutamyl transpeptidase levels remained significantly different from those of comparison subjects. Upon admission, alcoholic men had smaller cortical white and gray matter and larger lateral and third ventricle volumes, with reduced lateral ventricle and increased anterior cortical gray matter volumes by discharge. Lower RBC count, hemoglobin level, and hematocrit were associated with lower white matter and higher ventricular volumes at admission. Change in these measures was related to reduction in ventricular volume with treatment. By discharge, associations among RBC count, hemoglobin level, and hematocrit and white matter and ventricular volumes were less marked than at admission. Discharge hemoglobin value and hematocrit discriminated patients who maintained sobriety from those who relapsed. Hepatic function showed limited association with brain measures at admission and discharge.


Hemograms reflect alcohol-related abnormalities in brain morphology, improvement over short-term sobriety, and liability to relapse after treatment.

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