A new study, which examined gender-specific influences of binge drinking on spatial working memory (SWM), has found that female teens may be particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of the habit.
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 SWM.
"Even though adolescents might physically appear grown up, their brains are continuing to significantly develop and mature, particularly in frontal brain regions that are associated with higher-level thoughts, like planning and organization," said Susan F. Tapert, acting chief of psychology at the VA San Diego Healthcare System as well as professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego.
"Heavy alcohol use could interrupt normal brain cell growth during adolescence, particularly in these frontal brain regions, which could interfere with teens'' ability to perform in school and sports, and could have long-lasting effects, even months after the teen uses,” added Tapert.
Tapert and her colleagues recruited 95 participants from San Diego-area public schools as part of ongoing longitudinal studies.
"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,” added Tapert.
The study will be detailed in the October 2011 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View.