Background: Previous studies have suggested neural disruption and reorganization in young and older adults with alcohol use disorders (AUD). However, it remains unclear at what age and when in the progression of AUD changes in brain functioning might occur.
Methods: Alcohol use disordered (n= 15) and nonabusing (n= 19) boys and girls aged 15 to 17 were recruited from local high schools. Functional magnetic resonance imaging data were collected after a minimum of 5 days’ abstinence as participants performed spatial working memory and simple motor tasks.
Results: Adolescents with AUD showed greater brain response to the spatial working memory task in bilateral parietal cortices and diminished response in other regions, including the left precentral gyrus and bilateral cerebellar areas (clusters ≥943 μl; p < 0.05), although groups did not differ on behavioral measures of task performance. No brain response differences were observed during a simple finger-tapping task. The degree of abnormality was greater for teens who reported experiencing more withdrawal or hangover symptoms and who consumed more alcohol.
Conclusions: Adolescents with AUD show abnormalities in brain response to a spatial working memory task, despite adequate performance, suggesting that subtle neuronal reorganization may occur early in the course of AUD.