Binge drinking may negatively affect young people's ability to learn and retain knowledge, reports a new study.
The research adds to other studies demonstrating the negative effects of binge drinking, especially for adolescents whose brains and bodies are still developing. Previous research on rats and monkeys shows excess alcohol consumption hurts the hippocampus, or the portion of the brain associated with memory and learning.
After surveying a group of college-aged students at a Chilean university, the research team selected 122 to participate in the study. Nearly half reported binge drinking while the other half did not. Researchers made sure the students had similar grades, didn't use recreational drugs regularly and shared consistent intelligence scores.
During the experiment, students were tasked with learning a list of words. After going over the list five times, scientists asked the students to repeat the words they could remember, even if they weren't in the same order as the list. Participants were also given stories to memorize and shown photos of family members to describe later.
Researchers found that binge drinkers were less capable of recalling items from the list and performed worse at remembering the details of the story. There wasn't a difference in performance between groups when they were asked to provide details from photos of family members.
Although females are more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol, the study didn't find any gender differences in memory performance.
The study's strength is that participants were tested on their ability to recall material both in and out of context, meaning general ideas were included rather than facts alone.
The authors also admit drawbacks to the experiment. It's unclear whether binge drinking creates poorer declarative memory or serves as a sign of another problem. A longitudinal analysis is needed to make stronger statements about binge drinking's effects on memory.
Binge drinking is defined as raising one's blood alcohol concentration to more than 0.08 grams percent - roughly the equivalent of five drinks for men and four drinks for women over a two-hour span, according to the CDC. The practice has become common among university students, particularly in the United States.
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