Amygdala volume associated with alcohol abuse relapse and craving

Wrase J, Makris N, Braus DF, Mann K, Smolka MN, Kennedy DN, Caviness VS, Hodge SM, Tang L, Albaugh M, Ziegler DA, Davis OC, Kissling C, Schumann G, Breiter HC, Heinz A

Am J Psychiatry 2008 Sep;165(9):1179-84

PMID: 18593776


OBJECTIVE: Amygdala volume has been associated with drug craving in cocaine addicts, and amygdala volume reduction is observed in some alcohol-dependent subjects. This study sought an association in alcohol-dependent subjects between volumes of reward-related brain regions, alcohol craving, and the risk of relapse.

METHOD: Besides alcohol craving, the authors assessed amygdala, hippocampus, and ventral striatum volumes in 51 alcohol-dependent subjects and 52 age- and education-matched healthy comparison subjects after detoxification. After imaging and clinical assessment, patients were followed for 6 months and alcohol intake was recorded.

RESULTS: Alcohol-dependent subjects showed reduced amygdala, hippocampus, and ventral striatum volumes and reported stronger craving in relation to healthy comparison subjects. However, only amygdala volume and craving differentiated between subsequent relapsers and abstainers. A significant decrease of amygdala volume in alcohol-dependent subjects was associated with increased alcohol craving before imaging and an increased alcohol intake during the 6-month follow-up period.

CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest a relationship between amygdala volume reduction, alcohol craving, and prospective relapse into alcohol consumption.