At least four distinct cerebral diseases — Wernicke-Korsakoff, Marchiafava-Bignami, pellagrous encephalopathy, and acquired hepatocerebral degeneration — have a close association with chronic alcoholism. Each is characterized by a distinctive pathologic change and a reasonably wellestablished
pathogenesis; in each the role of alcohol in the causation is secondary. The question posed in this review is whether there is, in addition to the established types of dementia associated with alcoholism, a persistent dementia attributable to the direct toxic effects of alcohol on the brain — i.e., a primary alcoholic dementia. The clinical, psychologic, radiologic, and pathologic evidence bearing on this question is critically reviewed. None of the evidence permits the clear delineation of such an entity. The most serious flaw in the argument for a primary alcoholic dementia is that it lacks a distinctive, well-defined pathology, and it must remain ambiguous until such time as its morphologic basis is established.