The amygdala, hippocampus and ventral striatum are regions of the brain involved in remembering emotions, fear, reward, and aversion and reductions in the volumes of these areas have been associated with drug and alcohol problems. A German study of 103 people compared 51 alcohol-dependent people with 52 healthy controls. Before the study started the alcohol-dependent group participated in a 3-week inpatient detoxification programme and had been abstinent for 5 days. The study measured the participants' craving for alcohol and the volumes of their amygdalas, hippocampi and ventral striatums. After imaging and clinical assessments the alcohol-dependent group were followed for 6 months and their alcohol intake was recorded. The heavy drinkers showed reduced amygdala, hippocampus and ventral striatum volumes and reported stronger cravings for alcohol than the control group. However, only amygdala volume and craving differentiated between subsequent relapsers and abstainers. A significant decrease of amygdala volume in alcohol-dependent subjects was associated with increased alcohol craving before imaging and an increased alcohol intake during the 6-month follow-up period.
Wrase, Jana ... [et al] - Amygdala volume associated with alcohol abuse relapse and craving American Journal of Psychiatry September 2008, 165(9), 1179-1184