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You are here: McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind > Publications > Stress and binge drinking: a toxic combination for the teenage brain

Aaron Goldstein, Nicolas Dery, Malcolm Pilgrim, Miruna Loan, and Suzanna Becker (2016)

Stress and binge drinking: a toxic combination for the teenage brain

Neuropsychologia, 90:251-260.

Young adult university students frequently binge on alcohol and have high stress levels. Based on findings in rodents, we predicted that heavy current alcohol use and elevated stress and depression scores would be associated with deficits on high interference memory tasks, while early onset, prolonged binge patterns would lead to broader cognitive deficits on tests of associative encoding and executive functions. We developed the Concentration Memory Task, a novel computerized version of the Concentration card game with a high degree of interference. We found that young adults with elevated stress, depression, and alcohol consumption scores were impaired in the Concentration Memory Task. We also analyzed data from a previous study, and found that higher alcohol consumption scores were associated with impaired performance on another high interference memory task, based on Kirwan and Stark's Mnemonic Similarity Test. On the other hand, adolescent onset of binge drinking predicted poorer performance on broader range of memory tests, including a more systematic test of spatial recognition memory, and an associative learning task. Our results are broadly consistent with findings in rodents that acute alcohol and stress exposure suppress neurogenesis in the adult hippocampus, which in turn impairs performance in high interference memory tasks, while adolescent onset binge drinking causes more extensive brain damage and cognitive deficits.

stress, alcohol, depression, memory