Effects of Drinking Patterns on Prospective Memory Performance in College Students

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Abstract

Objective: Traditional college students are at a critical juncture in the development of prospective memory (PM). Their brains are vulnerable to the effects of alcohol. Method: There were 123 third and fourth year college students, 19–23 years old, who completed the Self-Rating Effects of Alcohol (SREA), Modified Timeline Follow-back (TFLB), Brief Young Adult Alcohol Consequences Scale (BYAACS), and Alcohol Effects Questionnaire (AEQ) once per month on a secure online database, as reported elsewhere (Dager et al., 2013). Data from the 6 months immediately before memory testing were averaged. In a single testing session participants were administered the Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview–Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders-Fourth Edition-Text Revision (MINI-DSM–IV–TR), measures of PM (event-based and time-based), and retrospective memory (RM). Based on the average score of six consecutive monthly responses to the SREA, TLFB, and AEQ, students were classified as nondrinkers, light drinkers, or heavy drinkers (as defined previously; Dager et al., 2013). Alcohol-induced amnesia (blackout) was measured with the BYAACS. Results: We found a relationship between these alcohol use classifications and time-based PM, such that participants who were classified as heavier drinkers were more likely to forget to perform the time-based PM task. We also found that self-reported alcohol-induced amnesia (blackouts) during the month immediately preceding memory testing was associated with lower performance on the event-based PM task. Participants’ ability to recall the RM tasks suggested the PM items were successfully encoded even when they were not carried out, and we observed no relationship between alcohol use and RM performance. Conclusion: Heavy alcohol use in college students may be related to impairments in PM.

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