Page last updated: Tuesday, November 03, 2009
Binge drinking affects attention and working memory in young university students
A recent study of binge drinking’s impact on attention and visual working memory processes in young Spanish university students has found that binge drinkers expend more attentional effort to complete a given task, and also have a deficiency in differentiating between relevant and irrelevant information.

Currently, 12.2% of Spanish university students may be binge drinkers, explained Alberto Crego, a doctoral student at the University of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain and corresponding author for the study. “One of the most relevant and worrying aspects of intense consumption of alcohol in young people is the effect this drinking pattern probably has on the structure and function of the still developing brain, and that these consequences may persist in the long term... Some neuromaturation processes continue until approximately 25 years of age; this means that late developing regions are probably even more vulnerable targets.” Furthermore, he added, a binge-drinking pattern of abusive, intermittent consumption causes greater damage than consuming similar amounts of alcohol in a more continual, less intense pattern of drinking. (Binge drinkers are defined as males who drink five or more standard alcohol drinks, and females who drink four or more, on one occasion and within a two-hour interval).

Researchers used the event-related potential (ERP) technique to examine 95 first-year university students (48 men, 47 women), 42 of them binge drinkers (BD) and 53 “control” students (who did not drink enough to raise concerns); all of them 18 to 20 years of age. An ERP is the electrophysiological brain response to internal or external stimuli. Study authors paid particular attention to the N2 (negative waveform) and P3 (positive waveform) components of ERPs, known to be particularly sensitive to alcohol, that were elicited in response to a visual working memory task.

“We found that healthy young university students who engaged in binge drinking showed anomalies during the execution of a task involving visual working memory, despite correct execution of the task, in comparison with young non binge drinkers. They required greater attentional processing during the task in order to carry it out correctly.”

These same students also had difficulties differentiating between relevant and irrelevant stimuli. “They displayed less efficiency in distributing attentional and working memory resources between the different information presented in a working memory task,” said Crego. “These results collectively suggest that impaired brain function may occur at an early age in binge drinkers during attentional and working memory processing, even in young university students without alcohol-use disorders.”

The results will be published in the November issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View. Binge Drinking Affects Attention And Working Memory In Young University Students. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research (2009, August 14).

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