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Alcohol Alcohol Suppl. 1991;1:375-80.

If you drink your brain will shrink. Neuropathological considerations.

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Department of Pathology, University of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.


Recent quantitative neuropathological analyses of the effects of alcohol on the central nervous system have revealed some interesting findings. CT scan studies have suggested shrinkage of the brain in alcoholics and this has been confirmed pathologically. Brain shrinkage relates to a loss of the white matter rather than the grey. However the cortical grey matter is not spared. There is a selective loss of neurones from the frontal region and in this and other cortical regions (motor and cingulate) there is shrinkage of the neuronal soma. This is reflected in a retraction of neuronal dendritic arbor which could account for a loss of white matter but does not explain the reversible brain shrinkage that sometimes follows prolonged abstinence. These studies were extended to specific population groups including moderate drinkers, female alcoholics and alcoholics with cirrhosis of the liver and the Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.

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