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Addict Biol. 2017 Sep;22(5):1426-1437. doi: 10.1111/adb.12421. Epub 2016 Jun 23.

Decreased subcortical volumes in alcohol dependent individuals: effect of polysubstance use disorder.

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Clinical NeuroImaging Research Core, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA.
Brown-National Institutes of Health Graduate Partnership Program, Bethesda, MD, USA.


Chronic alcohol use has widespread effects on brain morphometry. Alcohol dependent individuals are often diagnosed with comorbid substance use disorders. Alterations in brain morphometry may be different in individuals that are dependent on alcohol alone and individuals dependent on alcohol and other substances. We examined subcortical brain volumes in 37 individuals with alcohol dependence only (ADO), 37 individuals with polysubstance use disorder (PS) and 37 healthy control participants (HC). Participants underwent a structural MR scan and a model-based segmentation tool was used to measure the volume of 14 subcortical regions (bilateral thalamus, caudate, putamen, globus pallidus, hippocampus, amygdala and nucleus accumbens). Compared to HC, ADO had smaller volume in the bilateral hippocampus, right nucleus accumbens and right thalamus. PS only had volume reductions in the bilateral thalamus compared to HC. PS had a larger right caudate compared to ADO. Subcortical volume was negatively associated with drinking measures only in the ADO group. This study confirms the association between alcohol dependence and reductions in subcortical brain volume. It also suggests that polysubstance use interacts with alcohol use to produce limited subcortical volume reduction and at least one region of subcortical volume increase. These findings indicate that additional substance use may mask damage through inflammation or may function in a protective manner, shielding subcortical regions from alcohol-induced damage.


MRI; alcohol use disorder; brain structure; polysubstance use disorder; subcortical

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