Study: Binge drinking tied to memory loss in college students
By Randy Dotinga HealthDay
A new Spanish study links binge drinking in college
students to a lowered ability to remember lists of words, although the research
doesn’t prove alcohol is at fault and the drinkers did fine on a separate memory
It’s not clear if the difference in the ability to remember
words would have any impact on the ability of college students to learn while in
school. However, “if binge drinking really does compromise the ability to
perform memory tasks even days later, the findings could have important
implications for students who play hard on the weekends and then go back to
working hard during the week,” said Aaron White,
program director for Underage and College Drinking Prevention Research at the
U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Binge drinking refers to heavy drinking during a single
sitting, often to the point of getting drunk. Researchers have been studying
binge drinking for several years in an attempt to figure out how it affects
people, especially those whose brains and bodies are still developing.
“Until recently, it was believed that young people were
more resistant to the effects of alcohol than adults. However, animal studies
during the ’90s fired alarms suggesting otherwise,” said study author Maria
Parada, a postdoctoral researcher at Universidade de Santiago de Compostela in
Spain. “We now know that during adolescence, the brain is still maturing and
that alcohol may interfere with this maturation. Yet, little is known of what
happens in the nervous system during adolescence, whether these changes are
different according to gender, and how they are affected by alcohol.”
In the new study, researchers gave memory tests to 62
Spanish college students who were binge drinkers and 60 who were not, all aged
18 to 20. The students took two memory tests, one in which they were asked to
remember words and another to remember details from images.
After the researchers adjusted the results to reduce the
risk that they’d be thrown off by factors such as the various intelligence
levels of the participants, they found that the drinkers scored worse on some
parts of the word memory test, but not the detail test.
This doesn’t prove that drinking reduces memory skills,
however. It only shows that the two may be connected. It’s also not clear if the
effects will last for the long term.
If alcohol is at fault, Parada said, it may have something
to do with its effects on the parts of the brain that take the longest to
develop or those that are most vulnerable to the damaging effects of booze.
The study appears online May 16 and in the August print
issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.