Binge drinking impairs the spatial working memory (SWM) of teenagers, especially teenage girls, a study found.
SWM affects activities like sports, driving, and finding directions. Generally speaking, working memory refers to using information that's stored in the mind and is critical to logical reasoning.
The study was conducted by experts from the University of California San Diego and Stanford University. The results will be published in the October 2011 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
The study conducted gender-specific tests on drinking teens and non-drinking teens. It found that although both male and female binge drinkers had less brain activation while doing spatial working memory-related tasks than non-drinking teens, the dullness was more pronounced in teenage girls.
Susan Tapert, professor at University of California San Diego and the corresponding author for the study, offered several explanations that can account for the gender difference.
- Teenage girls weigh less, have more body fat, and have slower rates of metabolism
- Teenage girls' brains are one to two years further in the developmental stage compared to teenage boys
- The differences in hormonal levels and alcohol-induced hormone fluctuations between teenage girls and boys
Tapert emphasized that teenage boys and teenage girls are biologically different and should therefore represent distinctive groups that require separate and parallel study.
Moreover, teenagers in general are still developing and biological different than adults, hence the more pronounced damage of substances like alcohol.
Long after a young person - middle school to college - enjoys acute recovery from a hang-over, this study shows that risk to cognitive and brain functions endures. The effects on the developing brain are only now being identified, said Edith V. Sullivan of Stanford, who participated in the study.