Working Memory and Alcohol Use in At-Risk Adolescents: A 2-Year Follow-Up




Previous research has identified working memory (WM) as a possible risk factor for problem drinking in adolescence. At the same time, results suggest that WM functioning is negatively influenced by the use of alcohol. To get a better understanding of the nature of this relationship, the present study examined the prospective bidirectional association between alcohol use and WM in a sample of young adolescents at risk for problem drinking.


Adolescents were all 8th graders from 17 different Special Education Schools (for youth with externalizing behavior problems). At the beginning of the study, 374 adolescents participated (mean age of 13.6 years). Approximately every 6 months, adolescents completed a questionnaire to establish alcohol use and a Self-Ordered Pointing Task (SOPT) to assess WM.


Cross-lagged analyses revealed that alcohol use at T1 negatively predicted WM functioning 6 months later (< 0.001). WM functioning at T2 and at T3 predicted alcohol use 6 months later (< 0.01).


WM functioning has been identified as both risk factor for and as function negatively influenced by alcohol use. Findings indicate that early alcohol use in at-risk adolescents negatively influences the development of subsequent WM functioning, which in turn constitutes as a risk factor for later alcohol use problems. Implications for early interventions are discussed.