Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-559fc8cf4f-28jzs Total loading time: 0.977 Render date: 2021-03-03T06:04:55.139Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": false, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true }

Problematic alcohol use and reduced hippocampal volume: a meta-analytic review

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 April 2017

S. Wilson
Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota, 75 E River Rd, Minneapolis, MN, USA
J. L. Bair
Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota, 75 E River Rd, Minneapolis, MN, USA
K. M. Thomas
Institute of Child Development, 51 E River Rd, Minneapolis, MN, USA
W. G. Iacono
Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota, 75 E River Rd, Minneapolis, MN, USA
E-mail address:



A number of studies reports reduced hippocampal volume in individuals who engage in problematic alcohol use. However, the magnitude of the difference in hippocampal volume between individuals with v. without problematic alcohol use has varied widely, and there have been null findings. Moreover, the studies comprise diverse alcohol use constructs and samples, including clinically significant alcohol use disorders and subclinical but problematic alcohol use (e.g. binge drinking), adults and adolescents, and males and females.


We conducted the first quantitative synthesis of the published empirical research on associations between problematic alcohol use and hippocampal volume. In total, 23 studies were identified and selected for inclusion in the meta-analysis; effects sizes were aggregated using a random-effects model.


Problematic alcohol use was associated with significantly smaller hippocampal volume (d = −0.53). Moderator analyses indicated that effects were stronger for clinically significant v. subclinical alcohol use and among adults relative to adolescents; effects did not differ among males and females.


Problematic alcohol use is associated with reduced hippocampal volume. The moderate overall effect size suggests the need for larger samples than are typically included in studies of alcohol use and hippocampal volume. Because the existing literature is almost entirely cross-sectional, future research using causally informative study designs is needed to determine whether this association reflects premorbid risk for the development of problematic alcohol use and/or whether alcohol has a neurotoxic effect on the hippocampus.

Original Articles
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2017 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below.


Abrous, DN, Koehl, M, Le Moal, M (2005). Adult neurogenesis: from precursors to network and physiology. Physiological Reviews 85, 523569.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Agartz, I, Shoaf, S, Rawlings, RR, Momenan, R, Hommer, DW (2003). CSF monoamine metabolites and MRI brain volumes in alcohol dependence. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging 122, 2135.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bartels, C, Kunert, H-J, Stawicki, S, Kröner-Herwig, B, Ehrenreich, H, Krampe, H (2007). Recovery of hippocampus-related functions in chronic alcoholics during monitored long-term abstinence. Alcohol and Alcoholism 42, 92102.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Benegal, V, Antony, G, Venkatasubramanian, G, Jayakumar, PN (2007). Gray matter volume abnormalities and externalizing symptoms in subjects at high risk for alcohol dependence. Addiction Biology 12, 122132.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Beresford, TP, Arciniegas, DB, Alfers, J, Clapp, L, Martin, B, Lie, YDD, Shen, D, Davatzikos, C (2006). Hippocampus volume loss due to chronic heavy drinking. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 30, 18661870.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bjork, JM, Grant, SJ, Hommer, DW (2003). Cross-sectional volumetric analysis of brain atrophy in alcohol dependence: effects of drinking history and comorbid substance use disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry 160, 18.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bleich, S, Sperling, W, Degner, D, Graesel, E, Bleich, K, Wilhelm, J, Havemann-Reinecke, U, Javaheripour, K, Kornhuber, J (2003). Lack of association between hippocampal volume reduction and first-onset alcohol withdrawal seizure: a volumetric MRI study. Alcohol and Alcoholism 38, 4044.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Borenstein, M, Hedges, L, Higgins, J, Rothstein, H (2014). Comprehensive Meta-Analysis Version 3. Biostat: Englewood, NJ.Google Scholar
Campbell, S, Marriott, M, Nahmias, C, MacQueen, GM (2004). Lower hippocampal volume in patients suffering from depression: a meta-analysis. American Journal of Psychiatry 161, 598607.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Cardenas, VA, Studholme, C, Gazdzinski, S, Durazzo, TC, Meyerhoff, DJ (2007). Deformation-based morphometry of brain changes in alcohol dependence and abstinence. NeuroImage 34, 879887.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Cardenas, VA, Studholme, C, Meyerhoff, DJ, Song, E, Weiner, MW (2005). Chronic active heavy drinking and family history of problem drinking modulate regional brain tissue volumes. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging 138, 115130.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Cheetham, A, Allen, NB, Whittle, S, Simmons, J, Yücel, M, Lubman, DI (2014). Volumetric differences in the anterior cingulate cortex prospectively predict alcohol-related problems in adolescence. Psychopharmacology 231, 17311742.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Cipolotti, L, Bird, CM (2006). Amnesia and the hippocampus. Current Opinion in Neurology 19, 593598.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Cohen, J (1988). Statistical Power Analysis for the Behavioral Sciences. Erlbaum: Hillsdale, NJ.Google Scholar
Crews, FT, Nixon, K (2009). Mechanisms of neurodegeneration and regeneration in alcoholism. Alcohol and Alcoholism 44, 115127.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
De Bellis, MD, Clark, DB, Beers, SR, Soloff, PH, Boring, AM, Hall, J, Kersh, A, Keshavan, MS (2000). Hippocampal volume in adolescent-onset alcohol use disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry 157, 737744.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
de Kloet, ER, Joëls, M, Holsboer, F (2005). Stress and the brain: from adaptation to disease. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 6, 463475.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
den Heijer, T, Vermeer, SE, van Dijk, EJ, Prins, ND, Koudstaal, PJ, van Duijn, CM, Hofman, A, Breteler, MMB (2004). Alcohol intake in relation to brain magnetic resonance imaging findings in older persons without dementia. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 80, 992997.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Durazzo, TC, Tosun, D, Buckley, S, Gazdzinski, S, Mon, A, Fryer, SL, Meyerhoff, DJ (2011). Cortical thickness, surface area, and volume of the brain reward system in alcohol dependence: relationships to relapse and extended abstinence. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 35, 11871200.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Duval, S, Tweedie, R (2000). Trim and fill: a simple funnel-plot–based method of testing and adjusting for publication bias in meta-analysis. Biometrics 56, 455463.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Egger, M, Smith, GD, Schneider, M, Minder, C (1997). Bias in meta-analysis detected by a simple, graphical test. British Medical Journal 315, 629634.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Eriksson, PS, Perfilieva, E, Björk-Eriksson, T, Alborn, A-M, Nordborg, C, Peterson, DA, Gage, FH (1998). Neurogenesis in the adult human hippocampus. Nature Medicine 4, 13131317.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Faul, F, Erdfelder, E, Lang, A-G, Buchner, A (2007). G*Power 3: a flexible statistical power analysis program for the social, behavioral, and biomedical sciences. Behavior Research Methods 39, 175191.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Fein, G, Fein, D (2013). Subcortical volumes are reduced in short-term and long-term abstinent alcoholics but not those with a comorbid stimulant disorder. NeuroImage: Clinical 3, 4753.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fein, G, Greenstein, D, Cardenas, VA, Cuzen, NL, Fouche, J-P, Ferrett, H, Thomas, K, Stein, DJ (2013). Cortical and subcortical volumes in adolescents with alcohol dependence but without substance or psychiatric comorbidities. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging 214, 18.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Gazdzinski, S, Durazzo, TC, Yeh, P-H, Hardin, D, Banys, P, Meyerhoff, DJ (2008). Chronic cigarette smoking modulates injury and short-term recovery of the medial temporal lobe in alcoholics. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging 162, 133145.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Gross, CM, Spiegelhalder, K, Mercak, J, Feige, B, Langosch, JM (2013). Predictability of alcohol relapse by hippocampal volumetry and psychometric variables. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging 212, 1418.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hanson, KL, Medina, KL, Nagel, BJ, Spadoni, AD, Gorlick, A, Tapert, SF (2010). Hippocampal volumes in adolescents with and without a family history of alcoholism. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse 36, 161167.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
He, J, Nixon, K, Shetty, AK, Crews, FT (2005). Chronic alcohol exposure reduces hippocampal neurogenesis and dendritic growth of newborn neurons. European Journal of Neuroscience 21, 27112720.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Herrera, DG, Yagüe, AG, Johnsen-Soriano, S, Bosch-Morell, F, Collado-Morente, L, Muriach, M, Romero, FJ, García-Verdugo, JM (2003). Selective impairment of hippocampal neurogenesis by chronic alcoholism: protective effects of an antioxidant. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 100, 79197924.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hill, SY, De Bellis, MD, Keshavan, MS, Lowers, L, Shen, S, Hall, J, Pitts, T (2001). Right amygdala volume in adolescent and young adult offspring from families at high risk for developing alcoholism. Biological Psychiatry 49, 894905.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hommer, DW (2003). Male and female sensitivity to alcohol-induced brain damage. Alcohol Research and Health 27, 181185.Google ScholarPubMed
Honey, GD, Fletcher, PC, Bullmore, ET (2002). Functional brain mapping of psychopathology. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry 72, 432439.Google ScholarPubMed
Ieraci, A, Herrera, DG (2007). Single alcohol exposure in early life damages hippocampal stem/progenitor cells and reduces adult neurogenesis. Neurobiology of Disease 26, 597605.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Jacobus, J, Tapert, SF (2013). Neurotoxic effects of alcohol in adolescence. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology 9, 703721.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Karl, A, Schaefer, M, Malta, LS, Dörfel, D, Rohleder, N, Werner, A (2006). A meta-analysis of structural brain abnormalities in PTSD. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 30, 10041031.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kim, JJ, Diamond, DM (2002). The stressed hippocampus, synaptic plasticity and lost memories. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 3, 453462.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kitayama, N, Vaccarino, V, Kutner, M, Weiss, P, Bremner, JD (2005). Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) measurement of hippocampal volume in posttraumatic stress disorder: a meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders 88, 7986.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Koolschijn, P, van Haren, NE, Lensvelt-Mulders, GJ, Pol, H, Hilleke, E, Kahn, RS (2009). Brain volume abnormalities in major depressive disorder: a meta-analysis of magnetic resonance imaging studies. Human Brain Mapping 30, 37193735.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Laakso, MP, Vaurio, O, Savolainen, L, Repo, E, Soininen, H, Aronen, HJ, Tiihonen, J (2000). A volumetric MRI study of the hippocampus in type 1 and 2 alcoholism. Behavioural Brain Research 109, 177186.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
LaBar, KS, Cabeza, R (2006). Cognitive neuroscience of emotional memory. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 7, 5464.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Le Berre, A-P, Pitel, A-L, Chanraud, S, Beaunieux, H, Eustache, F, Martinot, J-L, Reynaud, M, Martelli, C, Rohlfing, T, Sullivan, EV, Pfefferbaum, A (2014). Chronic alcohol consumption and its effect on nodes of frontocerebellar and limbic circuitry: comparison of effects in France and the United States. Human Brain Mapping 35, 46354653.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Lee, E, Jang, D-P, Kim, J-J, An, SK, Park, S, Kim, I-Y, Kim, SI, Yoon, K-J, Namkoong, K (2007). Alteration of brain metabolites in young alcoholics without structural changes. NeuroReport 18, 15111514.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Light, R, Pillemer, DB (1984). Summing Up. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
Lipsey, MW, Wilson, DB (2001). Practical Meta-analysis. Sage: Thousand Oaks, CA.Google Scholar
Makris, N, Oscar-Berman, M, Jaffin, SK, Hodge, SM, Kennedy, DN, Caviness, VS, Marinkovic, K, Breiter, HC, Gasic, GP, Harris, GJ (2008). Decreased volume of the brain reward system in alcoholism. Biological Psychiatry 64, 192202.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Malone, SM, Luciana, M, Wilson, S, Sparks, JC, Hunt, RH, Thomas, KM, Iacono, WG (2014). Adolescent drinking and motivated decision-making: a cotwin-control investigation with monozygotic twins. Behavior Genetics 44, 407418.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
McEwen, BS (2007). Physiology and neurobiology of stress and adaptation: central role of the brain. Physiological Reviews 87, 873904.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Medina, KL, Schweinsburg, AD, Cohen-Zion, M, Nagel, BJ, Tapert, SF (2007). Effects of alcohol and combined marijuana and alcohol use during adolescence on hippocampal volume and asymmetry. Neurotoxicology and Teratology 29, 141152.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Miller, G (2010). Beyond DSM: seeking a brain-based classification of mental illness. Science 327, 14371437.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Nagel, BJ, Schweinsburg, AD, Phan, V, Tapert, SF (2005). Reduced hippocampal volume among adolescents with alcohol use disorders without psychiatric comorbidity. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging 139, 181190.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Nixon, K (2006). Alcohol and adult neurogenesis: roles in neurodegeneration and recovery in chronic alcoholism. Hippocampus 16, 287295.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Nixon, K, Crews, FT (2002). Binge ethanol exposure decreases neurogenesis in adult rat hippocampus. Journal of Neurochemistry 83, 10871093.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Nixon, K, Crews, FT (2004). Temporally specific burst in cell proliferation increases hippocampal neurogenesis in protracted abstinence from alcohol. Journal of Neuroscience 24, 97149722.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Oscar-Berman, M, Marinković, K (2007). Alcohol: effects on neurobehavioral functions and the brain. Neuropsychology Review 17, 239257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ozsoy, S, Durak, AC, Esel, E (2013). Hippocampal volumes and cognitive functions in adult alcoholic patients with adolescent-onset. Alcohol 47, 914.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Schuff, N, Neylan, TC, Fox-Bosetti, S, Lenoci, M, Samuelson, KW, Studholme, C, Kornak, J, Marmar, CR, Weiner, MW (2008). Abnormal N-acetylaspartate in hippocampus and anterior cingulate in posttraumatic stress disorder. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging 162, 147157.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Smith, ME (2005). Bilateral hippocampal volume reduction in adults with post-traumatic stress disorder: a meta-analysis of structural MRI studies. Hippocampus 15, 798807.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Smith, MJ, Wang, L, Cronenwett, W, Goldman, MB, Mamah, D, Barch, DM, Csernansky, JG (2011). Alcohol use disorders contribute to hippocampal and subcortical shape differences in schizophrenia. Schizophrenia Research 131, 174183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Starcevic, A, Dimitrijevic, I, Aksic, M, Stijak, L, Radonjic, V, Aleksic, D, Filipovic, B (2015). Brain changes in patients with posttraumatic stress disorder and associated alcoholism: MRI based study. Psychiatria Danubina 27, 7883.Google ScholarPubMed
Sullivan, EV, Marsh, L, Mathalon, DH, Lim, KO, Pfefferbaum, A (1995). Anterior hippocampal volume deficits in nonamnesic, aging chronic alcoholics. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 19, 110122.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Taffe, MA, Kotzebue, RW, Crean, RD, Crawford, EF, Edwards, S, Mandyam, CD (2010). Long-lasting reduction in hippocampal neurogenesis by alcohol consumption in adolescent nonhuman primates. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107, 1110411109.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
van Praag, H, Schinder, AF, Christie, BR, Toni, N, Palmer, TD, Gage, FH (2002). Functional neurogenesis in the adult hippocampus. Nature 415, 10301034.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Videbech, P, Ravnkilde, B (2004). Hippocampal volume and depression: a meta-analysis of MRI studies. American Journal of Psychiatry 161, 19571966.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
White, AM, Matthews, DB, Best, PJ (2000). Ethanol, memory, and hippocampal function: a review of recent findings. Hippocampus 10, 8893.3.0.CO;2-L>CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
White, AM, Swartzwelder, HS (2005). Age-related effects of alcohol on memory and memory-related brain function in adolescents and adults. In Recent Developments in Alcoholism (ed. Galanter, M.), pp. 161176. Springer: New York, NY.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wilson, S, Malone, SM, Thomas, KM, Iacono, WG (2015 a). Adolescent drinking and brain morphometry: a co-twin control analysis. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience 16, 130138.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Wilson, S, Thomas, KM, Iacono, WG (2015 b). Neurological risk factors for the development of problematic substance use. In Handbook of Cognitive Neuroscience (ed. Wilson, S. J.), pp. 269291. Wiley-Blackwell: Hoboken, NJ.Google Scholar
Wrase, J, Makris, N, Braus, DF, Mann, K, Smolka, MN, Kennedy, DN, Caviness, VS, Hodge, SM, Tang, L, Albaugh, M (2008). Amygdala volume associated with alcohol abuse relapse and craving. American Journal of Psychiatry 165, 11791184.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Wright, IC, Rabe-Hesketh, S, Woodruff, PW, David, AS, Murray, RM, Bullmore, ET (2000). Meta-analysis of regional brain volumes in schizophrenia. American Journal of Psychiatry 157, 1625.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Zeigler, DW, Wang, CC, Yoast, RA, Dickinson, BD, McCaffree, MA, Rominowitz, CB, Sterling, ML (2005). The neurocognitive effects of alcohol on adolescents and college students. Preventive Medicine 40, 2332.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Full text views reflects PDF downloads, PDFs sent to Google Drive, Dropbox and Kindle and HTML full text views.

Total number of HTML views: 55
Total number of PDF views: 324 *
View data table for this chart

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 04th April 2017 - 3rd March 2021. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Problematic alcohol use and reduced hippocampal volume: a meta-analytic review
Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Problematic alcohol use and reduced hippocampal volume: a meta-analytic review
Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Problematic alcohol use and reduced hippocampal volume: a meta-analytic review
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Your details

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *