(HealthDay News) – Gray matter (GM) volume in the brains of alcohol-dependent patients begins to recover within days of alcohol abstinence.

Julia van Eijk, from the University of Heidelberg in Germany, and colleagues analyzed magnetic resonance scans from 49 alcohol-dependent patients performed within the first 24 hours of detoxification and after two weeks of supervised abstinence. Brain volumes were compared to those found in 55 healthy control subjects using whole-brain segmentation and a voxel-based morphometric approach.

The researchers found that, compared with controls, the global cerebrospinal fluid volume was larger and the GM volume was smaller in alcohol-dependent patients on the first day of abstinence. The largest clusters exhibiting significant volumetric differences were found in the cingulate gyrus, precentral and middle frontal gyrus, cerebellum, and insula. In several brain regions there was a significant, but partial, recovery of GM volume after two weeks of abstinence.

“Our results show that recovery of GM volume in alcohol-dependent patients starts within a few days after detoxification but varies between brain regions,” the authors write. “This suggests that the general ability to recover and the rate as well as onset of the recovery diverges for different brain regions.”

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