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Binge Drinking Tied to Memory Loss in College Students: Study

By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, May 16 (HealthDay News) -- 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 test.

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.

More information

For more on binge drinking, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Aaron White, Ph.D., program director, Underage and College Drinking Prevention Research, Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research, U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Bethesda, Md.; Maria Parada, Ph.D., postdoctoral researcher, Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, Spain; August 2011, Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research

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