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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2006 Sep;30(9):1538-44.

Cognitive performance in long-term abstinent alcoholic individuals.

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  • 1Neurobehavioral Research Inc., Corte Madera, California 94925, USA.



There are few investigations of the potential recovery of neurocognitive function in chronic alcoholic samples after very-long-term abstinence. The current study examined cognitive abilities in middle-aged (mean age 46.8 years), long-term abstinent alcoholic individuals (LTAA). Twenty-five LTAA men and 23 LTAA women abstinent for an average of 6.7 years were compared with an equal number of gender and age-comparable normal controls (NC). We examined the association of neurocognitive variables with age, duration of abstinence, alcohol use measures, and the density of a family history of problem drinking.


Long-term abstinent alcoholic individuals and NC underwent comprehensive neuropsychological assessment. Performance was measured in the following 9 domains: abstraction/cognitive flexibility, attention, auditory working memory, immediate memory, delayed memory, psychomotor function, reaction time, spatial processing, and verbal skills.


Long-term abstinent alcoholic individuals performed similarly to NC, except for deficits in the spatial processing domain. The spatial processing results must be interpreted with caution because of multiple comparison issues; however, spatial processing deficits are among the impairments most often reported in abstinent alcoholic individuals. None of the cognitive measures were associated with length of abstinence, any alcohol use variable, or family history measure.


Very-long-term abstinence resolves most neurocognitive deficits associated with alcoholism, except for the suggestion of lingering deficits in spatial processing.

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