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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2001 Jan;25(1):112-6.

Thiamin treatment and working memory function of alcohol-dependent people: preliminary findings.

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School of Behavioural Sciences, University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.



Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS) is most often seen in people who are alcohol dependent. Treatment with thiamin may rapidly resolve acute symptoms. However, much evidence suggests that identification of WKS on clinical examination is relatively insensitive when compared with diagnosis at postmortem. No study has investigated the therapeutic effect of thiamin in a sample of alcohol-dependent people without the clinical triad of acute WKS.


We conducted a randomized, double-blind, multidose study of thiamin treatment in 107 subjects who were detoxifying from alcohol. Five groups of subjects were assessed with the Mini-Mental State Examination and were examined for the presence of neurological signs. Subjects were given different doses of intramuscular thiamin for two consecutive days. The posttreatment performance of these groups then was examined on a test of working memory derived from comparative neuropsychology, namely, the delayed alternation task. This test has been established as sensitive to the neuropathology of WKS.


Pretreatment measures of mental status and neurological signs were equivalent across groups. Groups were equated with respect to the background variables of age, education, typical daily alcohol consumption, and years of drinking. On the posttreatment measure, a superior performance was found in the group that received the highest dose of thiamin, compared with the other four treatment groups.


A therapeutic relationship between dose and working memory performance was indicated. These results have important implications for the management and prevention of WKS, but further investigations are needed to substantiate the nature of the therapeutic relationship.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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