The neuropsychology of cognitive functions in alcohol abstinence
background There is a vast amount of scientific evidence for the negative effects of alcohol on the functioning of the whole human body and particularly of the brain. The literature, however, is unclear about whether these functions can fully recover and about how long the abstinence period must be before patients with alcohol use disorder (aud) can be reliably assessed for cognitive and emotional functioning.
aim To review current findings on the length of the abstinence period required before a reliable neuropsychological assessment of the cognitive and emotional functioning of aud patients can be carried out.
method Using PubMed, Psycinfo and Medline, we consulted the literature for the period from 1975 to October 2011 relating to the effects of alcohol abstinence on the brain.
results The longer the period of abstinence, the greater the improvement in a patient’s neuropsychological functioning. In the case of aud patients, it takes at least six weeks for neuropsychological functioning to return to a fairly stable level.
conclusion An abstinence period of at least six weeks is needed before a reliable neuropsychological assessment can be carried out. This time period minimises the disturbance caused by earlier alcohol abuse. A neuropsychological standard of this kind, involving a six week period of abstinence, is needed for aud patients if they are to receive an appropriate and individualised neuropsychological assessment.