Adolescent Heavy Drinking Does Not Affect Maturation of Basic Executive Functioning: Longitudinal Findings from the TRAILS Study

Sarai R. Boelema*, Zeena Harakeh, Martine J. E. van Zandvoort, Sijmen A. Reijneveld, Frank C. Verhulst, Johan Ormel, Wilma A. M. Vollebergh

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

Background and Aims

Excessive alcohol use is assumed to affect maturation of cognitive functioning in adolescence. However, most existing studies that have tested this hypothesis are seriously flawed due to the use of selective groups and/or cross-sectional designs, which limits the ability to draw firm conclusions. This longitudinal study investigated whether patterns of alcohol use predicted differences in maturation of executive functioning in adolescence. Additionally, gender was tested as a possible moderator.

Methods

We used data from the Tracking Adolescents' Individual Lives Survey (TRAILS), which comprises a cohort of 2,230 Dutch adolescents. Maturation of executive functioning was measured by assessing the standardized improvement on each of four basic executive functions (i.e., inhibition, working memory, and shift-and sustained attention) between ages 11 and 19. Participants were assigned to one of six (heavy) drinking groups (i.e., non-drinkers, light drinkers, infrequent heavy drinkers, increased heavy drinkers, decreased heavy drinkers, and chronic heavy drinkers). We conducted linear regression analyses, and adjusted for relevant confounders.

Results

The six drinking groups did not reveal significant differences in maturation between drinking groups. E.g., maturation executive functioning of chronic heavy drinkers in comparison to non-drinkers; inhibition: B = -0.14, 95% CI [-0.41 to 0.14], working memory: B = -0.03, 95% CI [-0.26 to 0.21], shift attention: B = 0.13, 95% CI [-0.17 to 0.41], sustained attention: B = 0.12, 95% CI [-0.60 to 0.36]. Furthermore, gender was not found to be a significant moderator.

Conclusions

Four years of weekly heavy drinking (i.e., chronic heavy drinkers) did not result in measurable impairments in four basic executive functions. Thus, regular heavy drinking in adolescence does not seem to affect these basic behavioural measures of executive functioning.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0139186
Number of pages15
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume10
Issue number10
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 21-Oct-2015

Keywords

  • SPATIAL WORKING-MEMORY
  • ALCOHOL-USE DISORDERS
  • BRAIN-DEVELOPMENT
  • PREADOLESCENTS
  • BEHAVIOR
  • CHILDHOOD
  • ATTENTION
  • CHILDREN
  • GENDER
  • SAMPLE

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