The effects of diffuse brain atrophy linked to chronic alcohol consumption include reduced glucose utilization in the frontal lobes, structrual abnormalities and impairments on tests of neuropsychological function, according to the scientific journal Alcohol and Alcoholism. The effects of diffuse damage may manifest behaviorally as impairment of the problem-solving abilities, abstract thinking capacity and memory of those who chronically consume large amounts of alcohol.
The effects of diffuse atrophy in the brain are often particularly striking in the frontal lobes, writes Alcohol and Alcoholism. Assessments of physical damage to the frontal lobes in post-mortem studies indicates loss of cells, increased number of glia and reduced pigmentation of the cortex in the frontal lobes. In addition, overall brain weight is decreased, and the ventricles of the brain are often enlarged in alcoholics relative to normal controls. Assessments of structure and brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography reveal deficits in activity in the frontal lobes as well as recapitulating the structural damage seen from physical examination.
Alcoholics do not appear to suffer impairments to verbal knowledge and general intelligence as measured by IQ tests due to diffuse atrophy, reports Alcohol and Alcoholism. However, alcoholics do show reduced performance on abstract reasoning portions of general IQ tests, such as digit span and object assembly sections. These deficits are more apparent during specialized tests that emphasize learning, abstract reasoning capabilities or memory, such as maze and memory-based categorization tests. Women may be more susceptible to the cognitive effects of diffuse brain atrophy due to alcohol consumption than men.