Recoverability of Psychological Functioning following Alcohol Abuse: Lateralization Effects

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length of drinking history, effect of cerebral lateralization on differential recovery from visuospatial vs verbal impairment following drinking cessation, chronic alcoholics

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To assess the relative recoverability in chronic alcoholics of abilities that typically reflect differential functioning of the cerebral hemispheres, 3 spaced administrations of verbal and visuospatial tasks used by R. Stark (see PA, Vol 36:4JG82S) were conducted during a 1-mo inpatient alcohol treatment program. The Stark tasks require new learning of verbal and visuospatial paired-associate items, which were equated for difficulty level and found to successfully discriminate unilateral cerebral damage. The study design separated practice effects from actual recovery via administration of the 1st testing to each of 3 groups of 16 alcoholics (matched for age, education, and drinking history) at 5, 15, and 25 days, respectively, after drinking ceased. Baseline Stark task performance was assessed in 16 nonalcoholic matched controls. Results show that both verbal and visuospatial learning were impaired immediately after drinking ceased but were recovered within 2 wks in most alcoholics. Continued visuospatial, but not verbal, impairment lasted through 25 days in older alcoholics with long drinking histories. Greater right hemisphere damage thus does not appear to occur in most alcoholics but may be implicated in older, long-term alcoholics. Mechanisms that presume diffuse bilateral atrophy in all alcoholics are proposed to explain the differential impairment of visuospatial functions in long-term alcoholics.

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Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, v. 48, issue 4, p. 503-510