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Alcohol, Marijuana Use Linked to Youths' Cognitive Problems

Higher intensity of drinking is associated with poorer attention and executive function

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Heavy alcohol consumption, as well as marijuana use, appears to affect cognitive development in adolescents, according to research published online Oct. 19 in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Robert J. Thoma, Ph.D., of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, and colleagues analyzed data from adolescents ages 12 to 18, including 19 youths diagnosed with substance abuse or dependence (SUD), 14 with a family history of alcohol use disorder but not a personal substance use disorder, and 15 controls. Subjects reported their alcohol and marijuana use and underwent a battery of neuropsychological tests.

The researchers found that greater intensity of drinking, as assessed by drinks per drinking day, was associated with poorer attention and executive function. More frequent use of marijuana was associated with poorer memory. Youths in the SUD group performed more poorly on attention, memory, and processing speed composites.

"Although longitudinal assessment is necessary to test this proposed relationship rigorously, the current cross-sectional data suggest that misuse of each of these substances has lingering and independent effects upon cognition. To the extent that learning and honing of executive abilities are primary neurodevelopmental tasks during late adolescence, and given the prevalence of SUD in this population, it may be prudent to invest greater resources in the prevention and treatment of adolescent SUD," the authors conclude.

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