Background: Binge drinking (BD), which is characterized by sporadic consumption of large quantities of alcohol in short periods, is prevalent among university students. Animal studies have shown that BD is associated with damage to the hippocampus, a region of the brain that plays a key role in learning and memory. The temporal cortex undergoes structural and functional changes during adolescence. The aim of the present study was to examine the association between BD and declarative memory in male and female university students.
Methods: The participants were 122 students (between 18 and 20 years of age): 62 BD (30 women) and 60 non-BD (29 women). The neuropsychological assessment included the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test (RAVLT) and Weschler Memory Scale-3rd ed. (WMS-III) Logical Memory subtest, to evaluate verbal declarative memory, and the WMS-III Family Pictures subtest, to measure visual declarative memory.
Results: The BD students remembered fewer words in the interference list and displayed greater proactive interference in the RAVLT; they performed worse in the Logical Memory subtest, both on immediate and delayed recall. There were no differences between the groups in performance of the Family Pictures subtest. No significant interactions were observed between BD and sex.
Conclusions: Binge drinking is associated with poorer verbal declarative memory, regardless of sex. The findings are consistent with the vulnerability of the adolescent hippocampus to the neurotoxic effects of alcohol. Longitudinal studies will help determine the nature of this relationship, the neurodevelopmental trajectories for each sex, and the repercussions on academic performance.