Adolescent Binge Drinking Can Damage Spatial Working Memory
Binge or “heavy episodic” drinking is prevalent during adolescence, raising concerns about alcohol’s effects on crucial neuromaturational processes during this developmental period. Heavy alcohol use has been associated with decrements in cognitive functioning in both adult and adolescent populations, particularly on tasks of spatial working memory (SWM). This study examined gender-specific influences of binge drinking on SWM, finding that female teens may be particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of heavy alcohol use.
“Our study found that female teenage heavy drinkers had less brain activation in several brain regions than female non-drinking teens when doing the same spatial task,” said Tapert. “These differences in brain activity were linked to worse performance on other measures of attention and working memory ability. Male binge drinkers showed some but less abnormality as compared to male non-drinkers. This suggests that female teens may be particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of heavy alcohol use.”
“These findings remind us that adolescent boys and girls are biologically different and represent distinctive groups that require separate and parallel study,” noted Edith V. Sullivan, a professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine. “Adding alcohol to the mix of the developing brain and its multifaceted functions likely complicates the normal developmental trajectory, which is already sexually dimorphic.”
Tapert agreed there is a need to examine gender differences associated with alcohol use, particularly during adolescence, as alcohol seems to have a differential effect on the brain. “Females’ brains develop one to two years earlier than males, so alcohol use during a different developmental stage — despite the same age — could account for the gender differences,” she said. “Hormonal levels and alcohol-induced fluctuations in hormones could also account for the gender differences. Finally, the same amount of alcohol could more negatively affect females since females tend to have slower rates of metabolism, higher body fat ratios, and lower body weight. This is similar to what generally has been found in adult alcoholics: while both men and women are adversely affected, women are often more vulnerable than men to deleterious effects on the brain.”…”