A study of college students’ alcohol consumption and cognitive function found that the academic performance and mental health of women who drink frequently is impacted more than those of men who drink in excess. Men are more likely to engage in impulsive, risky behaviors as a result of high alcohol use, researchers found.
Researchers who conducted the study and wrote a paper published in the journal Trends in Neuroscience and Education surveyed anonymous U.S. college students online and asked about their alcohol use, academic performance, lifestyle habits and mental distress. The research found that both men and women who said they drank in excess exhibited “an increase in impulsive behaviors” but determined that the longer-term cognitive functions and decision making of women, controlled by the brain’s prefrontal cortex, were affected more by alcohol use than men, according to a news release from Binghamton University. Lina Begdache, assistant professor of health and wellness studies at Binghamton, was one of the study’s researchers.
“Young women reported generally less interest in academic work and performance than young men,” Begdache said in the release. “The latter reported more risky behaviors, such as being arrested, from excessive drinking. We also found that young women are more likely to depend on alcohol to improve mental well-being, which is also concerning, as they may self-medicate through drinking.”
The findings can also be explained by the fact that the prefrontal cortex and limbic system, which supports impulsivity in the brain, are more connected in the brains of women than men, Begdache said. This could lead women to suffer more long-term mental health and cognitive impact from high alcohol use during college than men, she said.
“Thus, the differential behaviors noted with increasing alcohol levels are potentially related to the gender-based differences in the brain,” Begdache said. “We did find that men and women who don’t drink or drink minimally exhibit responsible behaviors and academic effort, which are reflective of a normal trajectory of brain maturity.”