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West J Med. 1990 May;152(5):531-7.

Cognitive impairments in abstinent alcoholics.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of California, School of Medicine, San Francisco.


Impaired cognitive functioning in alcoholics is widespread during the first months of detoxification. Between half and two thirds of abstinent alcoholics exhibit cognitive impairments during this period, with residual deficits persisting for years after detoxification in some patients. The most severe deficits have been observed in visuospatial abilities, perceptual-motor integration, abstract reasoning, and new learning. The most significant predictors of cognitive dysfunction in persons recovering from alcoholism are the time elapsed since the last drink and the person's age. Surprisingly, the pattern and duration of a patient's alcohol abuse are relatively weak determinants of neuropsychological impairment during abstinence. Research investigating the hypothesis that cognitive impairments may be related to alcoholic persons resuming drinking has yielded mixed results, but a higher level of neuropsychological functioning is associated with increased rates of completing treatment programs and with greater success in the work environment after discharge from treatment. The possibility of cognitive limitations should be taken into account in planning treatment programs for alcoholism.

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