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Relationships between alcohol use and working memory performance in college students

Previous research has shown that drinking alcohol may be related to neurocognitive impairment of spatial working memory. Specifically, those who initiate alcohol use at a younger age may be more at risk for these negative consequences. A recent study observed 170 college students who used alcohol. In this study, students were asked to report the maximum number of drinks they had consumed in a 24-hour period within the last 6 months, as well as frequency of alcohol use. All participants also performed a virtual Morris Water Task during an fMRI to observe specific differences in spatial working memory.

Greater quantity of alcohol consumed in a 24-hour period was related to reduced memory function in the prefrontal cortex. Greater frequency of use was linked to reduced spatial working memory in the hippocampus. Altered function in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus in regards to working spatial memory may be impacted by alcohol use, but further research is needed to understand further cognitive deficits due to heavy alcohol use.

Take Away: College students who use alcohol in high quantities and/or frequently may have reduced working spatial memory function within the prefrontal cortex or hippocampus. Further studies are needed to understand long-term cognitive impacts of these findings.

Banz, B.C., Worhunsky, P.D., Pittman, B.P., Astur, R.S., Tennen, H.A., et al. (2019). Relationships between drinking quantity and frequency and behavioral and hippocampal BOLD responses during working memory performance involving allocentric spatial navigation in college students. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. doi.org/10.1016/j.drgalcdep.2019.03.030.

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