FRIDAY, July 15 (HealthDay News) -- Binge drinking can damage
teenagers' spatial working memory (the ability to perceive their
environment or their surroundings) at a critical time when their
brains are still developing, according to a new study.
And, girls may be especially vulnerable to the negative effects
of excess alcohol consumption, the researchers said.
"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," Susan F. Tapert, acting chief of psychology at the VA San Diego Healthcare System, said in a university news release.
"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," said Tapert, who is also a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego.
The study is published online July 15 ahead of print in the
October issue of
Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
According to the news release, drinking-related impairments in
spatial working memory can affect the following:
- Figural reasoning, such as geometry
- Sports, specifically remembering and enacting complex
- Reading maps
- Remembering directions or routes
In conducting the study, researchers subjected 95 teenagers to
neuropsychological testing, substance use interviews, and a spatial
working memory task during a brain scan using functional MRI.
The study found that teen girls who were heavy drinkers had less
brain activation in several areas of their brains than other girls
their age who didn't drink. Meanwhile, teenage boys who drank
excessively displayed some abnormality compared to their abstaining
peers, but the difference between male drinkers and non-drinkers
was less than among girls.
The study authors suggested that hormonal or metabolic
differences between boys and girls, or the fact that girls' brains
develop up to two years earlier than boys, could account for these
"These findings remind us that adolescent boys and girls are biologically different and represent distinctive groups that require separate and parallel study," Edith V. Sullivan, a professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine, said in the news release.
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