Introduction: Adolescence and young adulthood are periods of continued biological and psychosocial maturation. Thus, there may be deleterious effects of consuming large quantities of alcohol on neural development and associated cognition during this time. The purpose of this mini review is to highlight neuroimaging research that has specifically examined the effects of binge and heavy drinking on adolescent and young adult brain structure and function.

Methods: We review cross-sectional and longitudinal studies of young binge and heavy drinkers that have examined brain structure (e.g., gray and white matter volume, cortical thickness, white matter microstructure) and investigated brain response using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Results: Binge and heavy-drinking adolescents and young adults have systematically thinner and lower volume in prefrontal cortex and cerebellar regions, and attenuated white matter development. They also show elevated brain activity in fronto-parietal regions during working memory, verbal learning, and inhibitory control tasks. In response to alcohol cues, relative to controls or light-drinking individuals, binge and heavy drinkers show increased neural response mainly in mesocorticolimbic regions, including the striatum, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), hippocampus, and amygdala. Mixed findings are present in risky decision-making tasks, which could be due to large variation in task design and analysis.

Conclusions: These findings suggest altered neural structure and activity in binge and heavy-drinking youth may be related to the neurotoxic effects of consuming alcohol in large quantities during a highly plastic neurodevelopmental period, which could result in neural reorganization, and increased risk for developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Published in Drinking Patterns

In a cross-sectional study, we examined the relation between intake of 3 common foodstuffs that contain flavonoids (chocolate, wine, and tea) and cognitive performance. 2031 participants (70-74 y, 55% women) recruited from the population-based Hordaland Health Study in Norway underwent cognitive testing. A cognitive test battery included the Kendrick Object Learning Test, Trail Making Test, part A (TMT-A), modified versions of the Digit Symbol Test, Block Design, Mini-Mental State Examination, and Controlled Oral Word Association Test. Poor cognitive performance was defined as a score in the highest decile for the TMT-A and in the lowest decile for all other tests. A self-reported FFQ was used to assess habitual food intake. Participants who consumed chocolate, wine, or tea had significantly better mean test scores and lower prevalence of poor cognitive performance than those who did not. Participants who consumed all 3 studied items had the best test scores and the lowest risks for poor test performance. The associations between intake of these foodstuffs and cognition were dose dependent, with maximum effect at intakes of approximately 10 g/d for chocolate and approximately 75-100 mL/d for wine, but approximately linear for tea. Most cognitive functions tested were influenced by intake of these 3 foodstuffs. The effect was most pronounced for wine and modestly weaker for chocolate intake. Thus, in the elderly, a diet high in some flavonoid-rich foods is associated with better performance in several cognitive abilities in a dose-dependent manner.

Published in Phenolic compounds

Issues. To reduce the occurrence and costs related to substance use and associated harms it is important to intervene early. Although a number of international school-based prevention programs exist, the majority show minimal effects in reducing drug use and related harms. Given the emphasis on early intervention and prevention in Australia, it is timely to review the programs currently trialled in Australian schools. This paper reports the type and efficacy of Australian school-based prevention programs for alcohol and other drugs.

Approach. Cochrane, PsychInfo and PubMed databases were searched. Additional materials were obtained from authors, websites and reference lists. Studies were selected if they described programs developed and trialled in Australia that address prevention of alcohol and other drug use in schools.

Key Findings. Eight trials of seven intervention programs were identified. The programs targeted alcohol, cannabis and tobacco and most were based on social learning principles. All were universal. Five of the seven intervention programs achieved reductions in alcohol, cannabis and tobacco use at follow up.

Conclusion. Existing school-based prevention programs have shown to be efficacious in the Australian context. However, there are only a few programs available, and these require further evaluative research. This is critical, given that substance use is such a significant public health problem. The findings challenge the commonly held view that school-based prevention programs are not effective.

OBJECTIVE: To investigate whether light drinking in pregnancy is associated with adverse child mental health and academic outcomes.

DESIGN: Using data from the prospective, population-based Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), we investigated the associations between light drinking in pregnancy (/=1 glass per week of alcohol during the first trimester (45% abstaining). After adjustment, relative to abstainers, there was no effect of light drinking on teacher-rated SDQ scores or examination results. In girls, although there was a suggestion of worse outcomes (adjusted regression coefficient=0.38; 95% CI 0.01 to 0.74) on the parent-rated total SDQ score in those exposed to light drinking compared to abstainers, no dose-response relationship was evident.

CONCLUSIONS: Although the pattern of findings involving parent ratings for girls exposed to light drinking is consistent with earlier findings from this cohort, the overall lack of any adverse effects of light drinking is similar to findings from other recent cohort studies. Light drinking in pregnancy does not appear to be associated with clinically important adverse effects for mental health and academic outcomes at the age of 11 years.

Published in Pregnant Women
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