Widespread Cognitive Deficits in Alcoholism Persistent Following Prolonged Abstinence: An Updated Meta-analysis of Studies That Used Standardised Neuropsychological Assessment Tools. Academic Article uri icon


  • Abstract Objective This study presents an updated meta-analysis replicating the study of (Stavro, K., Pelletier, J., & Potvin, S. (2013). Widespread and sustained cognitive deficits in alcoholism: A meta-analysis. Addiction Biology, 18, 203–213. doi:10.1111/j.1369-1600.2011.00418.x) regarding the cognitive functioning of alcoholics as a function of time abstinent. Methods A total of 34 studies (including a total of 2,786 participants) that met pre-determined inclusion and exclusion criteria were included in the analyses. The alcoholics were categorised into recently detoxified alcoholics (0–31 days sober), alcoholics 32–365 days sober and alcoholics >365 days sober consistent with the previous study. The current study employed more stringent control on the tests included in the analysis to include only those tasks described in contemporary neuropsychological test compendia. Forty-seven percent of the papers surveyed were not include in the previous meta-analysis. Results The results indicated that there was a diffuse and pervasive pattern of cognitive deficit among recently detoxified alcoholics and that these deficits, particularly with regard to memory functioning, persisted even in longer term abstinent alcoholics. This was inconsistent with the prior meta-analysis which contended that significant cognitive recovery was possible after as little as 1 year. Conclusion The persisting cognitive deficits were noted across a wide range of cognitive functions, supporting the notion of a diffuse rather than a specific compromise of cognition in alcoholism following discontinuation, as measured using standardised neuropsychological tests. Limitations on the finding included the fact that it was a cross-sectional rather than a longitudinal analysis, was subject to heterogeneity of method, had low representation of females in the samples, and had fewer studies of long-term sober samples.

publication date

  • 2019