Alcohol’s Effects on Brain and Behavior


Sullivan EV, Harris RA, Pfefferbaum A. Alcohol’s effects on brain and behavior. Alcohol Res Health. 2010;33(1-2):127-43. PMID: 23579943; PMCID: PMC3625995.


Over the past 40 years, rigorous examination of brain function, structure, and attending factors through multidisciplinary research has helped identify the substrates of alcohol-related damage in the brain. One main area of this research has focused on the neuropsychological sequelae of alcoholism, which has resulted in the description of a pattern of sparing and impairment that provided an essential understanding of the functional deficits as well as of spared capabilities that could be useful in recovery. These studies have elucidated the component processes of memory, problem solving, and cognitive control, as well as visuospatial, and motor processes and their interactions with cognitive control processes. Another large area of research has focused on observable brain pathology, using increasingly sophisticated imaging technologies–progressing from pneumoencephalography to computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), diffusion tensor imaging, and functional MRI–that have enabled ever more detailed insight into brain structure and function. These advancements also have allowed analysis of the course of brain structural changes through periods of drinking, abstinence, and relapse.

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