Page last updated: July 2020
Cognitive aptitudes of young women may be more affected with high alcohol use than men

Lina Begdache, assistant professor of health and wellness studies at Binghamton University, and colleagues examined neurobehaviours and academic effort among college students with low alcohol use and compared them with those of students with high alcohol consumption.
An anonymous survey was used to assess college students' alcohol use and frequency along with questions on sleep, academic performance and attitude toward learning. The research compared gender responses and found that both young men and women exhibit some common behavioural responses to high alcohol use such as abuse of other substances and risk-taking. These behaviours are regulated by the limbic system of the brain. It was also apparent that other cognitive functions for high alcohol use among young men and women were different.
Because the form and structure of the brain is different in males and females, the long-term impact of excessive drinking may also be different. In both genders, the researchers reported an increase in impulsive behaviours, which are under the control of the limbic system. However, cognitive functions and decision making are controlled by the prefrontal cortex), which completes its maturity by the mid to late 20s. Therefore, seeing differential behaviours could imply that excessive alcohol use has differential effects on prefrontal cortex function/brain maturity, which may have an impact on mental health as well.
Lina Begdache commented “Cognitive aptitudes of young women appear to be more affected than for men with high alcohol use. Young women reported generally less interest in academic work and performance than young men.”
"These findings are also explained by the fact that women tend to have higher connectivity between cortices, while men have a large cortical volume in the areas on the limbic system that support impulsivity... Thus, the differential behaviours noted with increasing alcohol levels are potentially related to the gender-based differences in the brain”. The research did find that men and women who don't drink or drink minimally exhibit responsible behaviours and academic effort, which are reflective of a normal trajectory of brain maturity.
The researchers also say that another potential reason for the difference seen is the differential metabolism of alcohol. Women metabolise alcohol at a slower rate, so are more likely to feel the effect of alcohol. Consequently, their brain is more likely to accumulate a toxic metabolite, acetaldehyde, which may be altering brain chemistry further to add to the differential behaviours identified in this study.
Academic performance and risky behaviours among college students may be linked to their drinking habits, so more education and awareness should be shared with college students, said Begdache.
Source: Lina Begdache, Hamed Kianmehr, Nasim Sabounchi, Anna Marszalek, Ngawang Dolma. Common and differential associations between levels of alcohol drinking, gender-specific neurobehaviors and mental distress in college students, Trends in Neuroscience and Education, Volume 19, 2020,100129,ISSN 2211-9493.

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