Drinking History Associations with Regional White Matter Volumes in Alcoholic Men and Women

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Alcoholism has been repeatedly associated with gray and white matter pathology. Although neuroimaging has shown alcoholism-related brain volume reductions and axonal compromise, the integrity of white matter volumes in chronic alcoholism has been challenging to measure on a regional level.


We first examined the effects of alcoholism on cerebral white matter volumes by lobar and gyral subdivisions in 42 abstinent alcoholics and 42 control participants (split evenly by gender). We also examined cerebellar white matter and regions of the corpus callosum, as well as ventricular volumes. Next, relationships between white matter and ventricular volumes with measures of drinking patterns were assessed. Finally, an examination of early versus late abstinence was conducted. Within each examination, gender effects were explored.


Differences in regional white matter volumes between alcoholics and controls were observed primarily in the corpus callosum, with a stronger group difference among men than women. Years of heavy drinking had a strong negative impact on frontal and temporal white matter among alcoholic women, and on the corpus callosum among alcoholic men. Quantity of alcohol consumption was associated with smaller corpus callosum and larger ventricular volumes among alcoholic women, whereas abstinence duration was associated with larger corpus callosum volume among alcoholic men. Preliminary data indicated that alcoholic women showed stronger positive associations between sobriety duration and white matter volume than men within the first year of abstinence, whereas men showed this association more so than women after 1 year of abstinence.


Effects of drinking history on white matter and ventricular volumes vary by gender, with alcoholic women showing greatest sensitivity in frontal, temporal, ventricular, and corpus callosum regions, and alcoholic men showing effects mainly in the corpus callosum. Preliminary results indicate that recovery of white matter volume may occur sooner for women than for men.

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