Young, drunk, and fast: the paradoxical effects of hazardous drinking on cognitive performance in younger adults

Friday, 25 November, 2022 - 13:20 to 14:50
Networking zone 4 (N4)

Abstract

Background: Research links hazardous alcohol use with reduced cognitive function. Using vibrotactile perception to assess cognitive function may have benefits over other sensory stimuli. This cross-sectional study aimed to assess performance on a range of vibrotactile tasks across hazardous (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test score ⩾8) versus non-hazardous drinkers.

Methods: Participants (n = 82; 29m, 53f, aged 18-80; 33.22 ± 17.35 years) completed tasks and alcohol, subjective executive function, and mood questionnaires. Analysis of variance grouped by raw test type, and hierarchical linear regression, were used to investigate function.

Results: Surprisingly, while the overall analyses of variance were non-significant (p <.05), reaction time (RT) between-subjects effects (specifically simple (p =.048) and choice (p =.046) RT) were better in hazardous drinkers (though the significance disappeared once covariates were added, of which age was most significant). Additionally, although there were no significant differences in amplitude discrimination, temporal order judgement, or duration discrimination, these too were better in hazardous drinkers. Furthermore, regressions indicated alcohol consumption predicted simple (p=.02) and choice (p=.44) RT (a negative relationship, risky drinking associated with better performance). To further investigate age, drinking behaviour, and RT; ‘older’ (30+ years) and ‘younger’ (18-29 years) hazardous and non-hazardous drinkers were analysed as four groups. Analysis of variance indicated the effect of drinking level on RT was now significant (p=.008). While not all mean differences were significant, being older had the most detrimental impact on performance (though hazardous older drinkers performed worse), but young hazardous drinkers performed the best overall.

Conclusions: Explanations are considered, including the premature aging hypothesis, impulsivity, and the impact of alcohol use on various neurotransmitter systems. Furthermore, subjective executive function was significantly worse in young hazardous drinkers, which indicates either a possible metacognition deficit, increased effort, or issues with vibrotactile perception as a cognitive function assessment in this group.

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