Cognitive and Emotional Deficits in Chronic Alcoholics: a Role for the Cerebellum? Academic Article uri icon


  • It is now widely accepted that in addition to motor coordination, the cerebellum is also involved in the modulation of cognitive and affective processes. Despite alcoholic cerebellar degeneration (ACD) being the most common form of cerebellar disorder, little systematic investigation of cerebellar-mediated cognitive and affective deficits has occurred in chronic alcoholics. Forty-nine chronic alcoholics and 29 healthy control participants underwent testing of cognitive and affective function, along with measurement of cerebellar ataxia using the International Cooperative Ataxia Rating Scale (Trouillas et al., Journal of the Neurological Sciences 145:205-11, 1997). The alcoholic group demonstrated significantly poorer performance as compared to the control group in a number of domains, including visuospatial and language skills, psychomotor speed, new learning and memory, executive functioning, and emotional regulation and affect processing. There were no differences between the alcoholic and control groups in immediate attention and working memory abilities. Years of heavy drinking and total period of abstinence were found to be the best predictors of cognitive and emotional function in the alcoholic group. After accounting for alcohol chronicity, there was still a relationship between the degree of clinical signs of ACD and some areas of cognitive and emotional functioning, including language, executive functioning, processing speed and affect processing. The results suggest that some of the cognitive and affective deficits observed in chronic alcoholics may be mediated, at least in part, by cerebellar dysfunction. These findings add support to the theory of disruption to bidirectional cerebro-cerebellar circuitry underlying cognitive and affective deficits in chronic alcoholics.

publication date

  • August 2013