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Binge Drinking Affects Memory In Young Adults

May 18, 2011

Binge drinking, which is widespread among university students, especially in the United States, has been found to destroy long term memory even in young adults.

Researchers believe that heavy consumption of alcohol makes it more difficult to build new memories because the hippocampus — an area in the brain’s center that plays a vital role in learning and memory — is very susceptible to alcohol’s poisonous effects.

In a Spanish study, to be published in the August 2011 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, researchers followed university students’ binge drinking habits and the association it had on declarative memory. What they found was a link between binge drinking and the inability to learn new information given them verbally.

On a sliding scale, students scored lower in two tests designed to see how much knowledge they retained and recalled.

“In northern European countries, there is a strong tradition of a sporadic, drunkenness-orientated, drinking style,” said Dr. Maria Parada at the Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, an author of the study.

“In contrast, countries on the Mediterranean coast, such as Spain, have traditionally been characterized by a more regular consumption of low doses of alcohol,” she said.

“In recent years, the pattern of binge drinking among young people has become more widespread throughout Europe, hence the growing concern about this issue,” Parada said n a statement. “I think it’s important to examine alcohol’s effects on the hippocampus because in animal studies, particularly in rats and monkeys, this region appears sensitive to the neurotoxic effects of alcohol, and this structure plays a main role in memory and learning.”

“In other words, binge drinking could affect memory of young adults, which might affect their day-to-day lives,” Parada added.

The study examined 122 Spanish university students between 18 and 20 years old divided into two groups. Group 1 included those who engaged in binge drinking, and group 2 had those who abstained from drinking. The two groups were then subjected to a neuropsychological assessment which included recalling visual and verbal experiences.

“Our main finding was a clear association between binge drinking and a lower ability to learn new verbal information in healthy college students, even after controlling for other possible confounding variables such as intellectual levels, history of neurological or psychopathological disorders, other drug use, or family history of alcoholism,” said Parada.

“Whereas most attention has focused on negative consequences such as traffic accidents, violence or public disorder, society and students themselves are unaware of the damaging effects binge drinking may have on the brain,” she added.

Rodriguez Alvarez, a study co-author, said: “Young adults with a binge drinking pattern of alcohol consumption who have poorer verbal declarative memory will need more neural resources to perform memory tasks and to learn new information, which probably would affect their academic performance.”

Parada, however, was a little more guarded. “Although it seems reasonable to expect that these differences in declarative memory affect academic performance ““ because it depends on the ability to learn new information ““ there are many other variables that may modulate and explain this relationship, for example, student effort or class attendance,” she said.

“We are currently carrying out a longitudinal study of these young people, and collecting information on their academic achievements, so we hope to be able to answer this question more definitively in the near future,” Parada added.

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