Female College Students More Affected Academically By High Alcohol Use Than Men
A new study suggests that female college students may be more affected by high alcohol use than men, which can lead to less interest in academics.
For the study, a research team from Binghamton University, State University of New York administered an anonymous survey that assessed college students’ alcohol use and frequency and also included questions on sleep, academic performance and attitude toward learning.
The researchers compared gender responses and found that both young men and women show common behavioral responses to high alcohol use such as abuse of other substances and risk-taking, behaviors which are regulated by the limbic system of the brain.
However, the cognitive functions for high alcohol use among young men and women were different.
“Cognitive aptitudes of young women appear to be more affected than for men with high alcohol use,” said Lina Begdache, assistant professor of health and wellness studies at Binghamton.
“Young women reported generally less interest in academic work and performance than young men. 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.”
Because the brain is structurally different in men and women, the long-term impact of excessive drinking may be different as well. In both genders, the study found an increase in impulsive behaviors, which are under the control of the limbic system (the oldest part of the brain, evolutionary speaking).
However, cognitive functions and decision making are controlled by the prefrontal cortex (the newest part of the brain, evolutionary speaking), which completes its development by the mid to late 20s.
Therefore, seeing differential behaviors 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.
“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,” said Begdache.
“Thus, the differential behaviors noted with increasing alcohol levels are potentially related to the gender-based differences in the brain. 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.”
Another reason for the difference seen is the differential metabolism of alcohol. Women tend to metabolize alcohol at a slower rate, and are therefore more likely to feel the effects of alcohol. Because of this, a woman’s brain is more likely to accumulate a toxic metabolite, acetaldehyde, which may be altering brain chemistry further to add to the differential behaviors found in this study.
Academic performance and risky behaviors among college students may be linked to their drinking habits, so more education and awareness should be shared with college students, said Begdache.
In the future, Begdache would like to look at the associations between nutrition, alcohol and mental health.
The paper, “Common and differential associations between levels of alcohol drinking, gender-specific neurobehaviors and mental distress in college students,” is published in the journal Trends in Neuroscience and Education.
Source: Binghamton University
Pedersen, T. (2020). Female College Students More Affected Academically By High Alcohol Use Than Men. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2020/06/05/female-college-students-more-affected-academically-by-high-alcohol-use-than-men/157027.html