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Chronic alcoholism and the frontal lobe: which executive functions are imparied?

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Objective– Over the last decade, various hypotheses have been advanced concerning the cognitive functions affected by chronic alcoholism. The aim of this study was to identify the pattern of executive function impairment in chronic alcoholism, shedding light on possible differences between specific functions related to the frontal lobe. Methods– Twenty-two male alcoholics and 22 controls, matched for age, educational level and IQ, were enrolled in the study. MMPI and a battery of neuropsychological tests [i.e. digit symbol, trail making test, Stroop test, digit cancellation test, Wisconsin card sorting test (WCST), simple and choice reaction times] for assessing frontal lobe functioning were administered. Results– The alcoholics were found to be impaired in a wide range of executive domains, with the exception of the Stroop test, which nevertheless showed a trend towards statistically significant differences between patients and controls. Conclusion– With the exception of aggression – our subjects did not have high aggression scale scores – the `frontal lobe hypothesis', according to which alcoholic patients are impaired on function tests related to the frontal lobe, was therefore confirmed in our sample.

Keywords: alcoholism; cognitive functions; frontal lobe

Document Type: Original Article

Affiliations: 1: Center for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Institute of Neurology, Department of Neurological Sciences, University of Pavia, Italy, 2: IRCCS – `C. Mondino' Institute of Neurology, Department of Neurological Sciences, University of Pavia, Italy

Publication date: April 1, 2002

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