Visual performance and recovery in recently detoxified alcoholics

A J Wegner, A G√ľnthner, M Fahle
Alcohol and Alcoholism 2001, 36 (2): 171-9
In order to assess the impact of chronic alcohol misuse on basic visual functions, we investigated motion perception, visual short-term memory, and visual divided attention in recently detoxified patients and matched controls by means of visual psychophysical tasks. Subjects were tested twice within the first 3 weeks of detoxification in order to assess the potential recovery of visual performance. Patients demonstrated significant impairments in visual perception of coherent motion for slow, but not faster, speeds, and in speed discrimination as assessed by random dot kinematograms. Visual short-term memory tested with a delayed vernier discrimination task, on the other hand, was not significantly affected in patients. When processing hierarchical letters, a divided attention task, detoxified patients showed neither impairments in overall attentional capacity nor attentional allocation, but slightly enhanced interference of global information on local target processing. The results of the visual divided attention task contradict the predictions of the 'right hemisphere' hypothesis of alcoholism: global target information - mediated by the right hemisphere - was not only accessible to detoxified patients, but seemed to exert an even greater influence on local processing during early detoxification, than in matched controls. Limited recovery within the first 3 weeks was seen only in visual speed discrimination. Recently detoxified patients revealed deficits similar to intoxicated social drinkers in identical tests of visual perception of motion, but not visual short-term memory.

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