Night on the tiles: Heavy drinking can affect your memory long-term and not just the night after
Students who enjoy regular pub crawls are putting their long-term memory at risk, scientists warn.
A study has found that binge drinking affects the brain’s hippocampus, which plays a key role in learning and memory.
This brain structure is particularly sensitive to the poisonous effect of alcohol no matter what your age, which is bad news for heavy drinking undergraduates.
Lead researcher Dr Maria Parada said: ‘We wondered whether hippocampus-dependent learning and memory could be affected by heavy episodic drinking.
‘In northern European countries, there is a strong tradition of a sporadic, drunkenness-orientated, drinking style.
‘In recent years, the pattern of binge drinking among young people has become more widespread throughout Europe, hence the growing concern about this issue.’
Our long-term memory is split into two types: declarative memory – which is our memory for facts and procedural memory – which is how we know how to physically do something like tie our shoelaces.
Scientists from Universidade de Santiago de Compostela in Spain found heavy drinking had a detrimental effect on students’ declarative memory.
Those who admitted to indulging in too many pints were not as good at remembering facts.
Dr Parada said: ‘Our main finding was a clear association between binge drinking and a lower ability to learn new verbal information in healthy college students.
‘This was even after controlling for other possible confounding variables such as intellectual levels, history of disorders, other drug use, or family history of alcoholism.’
The study examined 122 Spanish university students, aged between 18 and 20, divided into two groups – those who engaged in binge drinking and those who abstained.
They were then subjected to a neuropsychological assessment which included a logical memory subtest to test verbal declarative memory and tests to measure visual declarative memory.
Dr Parada said: ‘This (study) allowed us to establish a clearer association between binge drinking patterns and poorer performance on memory tasks.
‘One of the factors that appear to be behind this pattern of consumption is the low perception of risk.
‘Whereas most attention has focused on negative consequences such as traffic accidents, violence or public disorder, society and students themselves are unaware of the damaging effects binge drinking may have on the brain.’
She added that the study accounted for variables such as genetic vulnerability, or drug use, such as marijuana.
Dr Parada said they would be following the students long-term to see whether drinking could affect academic performance, when taking variables such as class attendance into account.
The findings are published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

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