The contribution of head injuries to neuropsychological deficits was studied in 157 recently detoxified alcoholics and 400 control subjects consisting of age-stratified randomly selected men and women from the same geographical area as the alcoholics. Head injuries had occurred in 41% and 22% of the male and female alcoholics, but only in 15% and 6% of the male and female control subjects. One third of the injured subjects in both groups had been admitted to hospital for treatment of the acute injury. The neuropsychological test results of alcoholics were significantly inferior to those of control subjects. Unexpectedly, alcoholics with head injuries not identified at hospital were significantly inferior in several Halstead-Reitan subtests when compared with uninjured alcoholics with a similar duration of alcoholism and abstinence. By contrast, control subjects who had sustained a head injury not identified at hospital did not show signs of intellectual impairment when compared with uninjured controls. We conclude that traumatic brain injuries that may cause significant intellectual impairment may easily remain unrecognised in alcoholics.
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