Published online by Cambridge University Press: 10 January 2011
The availability of imaging tools has enhanced our appreciation of the effects of chronic and excessive alcohol exposure on the human brain. The specific localization of alcohol effects on the brain could further enhance our understanding of the behavioral, cognitive, and motor impairments associated with alcoholism. Cognitive impairments observed in alcohol dependents can limit a person's ability to sustain sobriety and re-establish normal life function. Indeed, impairment of executive control of behavior may well contribute directly to maintenance of addiction. Thus, assessment and acknowledgment of alcohol dependents' cognitive impairments and their neuroanatomical substrates could inform and direct treatment approaches.
Brain tissue shrinkage, reflected by ventricular and sulcal enlargement, has been reported widely from initial in-vivo imaging studies using computerized tomography (CT) to more recent work using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with evidence that these changes are progressive with continued alcohol use, and at least partly reversible with abstinence. In-vivo CT and MRI studies of alcoholism complement post-mortem neuropathological investigations in the search for structural brain abnormalities due to alcoholism, and each type of study has provided focus for the other in targeting structures to investigate (Sheedy et al.,1999; Sullivan et al., 1999).
Careful selection of MR sequence parameters for image data acquisition and semi- or automated methods for image data analysis increase the opportunity for precise identification and quantification of changes in central nervous system morphometry that can then be used to identify subtle changes in the brain.