Interactive Effects of Baseline Executive Functioning and Working Memory Depletion on Alcohol Use Among Heavy Drinking Young Adults

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Binge drinking is frequently reported by young adults, despite being associated with a number of negative consequences. This type of heavy drinking is associated with deficits in many executive functions, including working memory. Poor working memory may contribute to increased alcohol use by limiting one’s ability to modulate their behavior, including drinking. Furthermore, the limited resource model of executive functioning predicts that individuals with poorer premorbid executive functioning abilities, whose working memory is taxed or depleted, should experience the highest levels of dysregulated behavior. This research aimed to experimentally test this hypothesis among young adult heavy drinkers. Twenty-four binge and/or heavy drinkers (66.7% men; Mage = 22.95) completed a baseline measure of executive functioning and were then randomized to complete a working memory depletion task or a control task. Participants subsequently completed a taste-rating task in which quantity of alcohol consumed was unobtrusively measured. Participants who experienced working memory depletion were more likely to consume higher quantities of alcohol only when their baseline executive functioning was poorer. Results from this preliminary study suggest that among individuals with lower executive functioning, dysregulated behavior including increased alcohol use may result from environmental demands that tax working memory resources.

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