Title of Proposal: Alcoholism and the Brain
Research Question: What is the effect of alcohol on the explicit and implicit memory of adolescents and young adults?
Part of the brain studied: The brain is part of the Central Nervous System (CNS) that consists of billions of nerve cells. The CNS is responsible for conveying information through motor functioning, senses, reasoning, and thinking. The CNS is sensitive to alcohol because the substance can permeate the blood-brain barrier and reach the neurons directly. Since alcohol is a depressant, it makes the nerve cells in the brain less active, slowing brain function. This study will scan the parts of the brain that are responsible for explicit and working memory namely: the hippocampus, neocortex, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex. Episodic memories are formed and stored in the hippocampus and the neocortex is responsible for functions like generation of motor commands, sensory response, and language (The University of Queensland). Information that is temporarily stored in the hippocampus can be moved over time to the neocortex. The amygdala, which is also in the temporal lobe of the brain, is responsible for emotional attachment to memories. The prefrontal cortex, which is part of the neorcortex, is in charge of short-term memory such as the location of a car key.
Hypothesis: Binge drinking among adolescents and young adults leads to slowed activity in the hippocampus, neorcortex, amygdala, and the prefrontal cortex, thus, memory impairment. Alcohol consumption among adolescents and young adults has attracted intensive research because at this stage, individuals love to experiment and are most likely to imitate friends who drink. Consumption of large quantities of alcohol has been associated with blackouts, an episode of amnesia during which a person is incapable of participating in normal activities, and are unable to remember present events later. This means that when a person is highly intoxicated, the brain is unable to create new memories. However, memories made before intoxication are not tampered with. Studies in this area have revealed a negative association between alcohol and the memory functioning. In line with this general observations, activity in the four parts of the brain is likely to slow down after subjects consume a relatively large amounts of alcohol.
Summary of study: The study will feature 30 individuals aged between 18 and 24 years. With their consent, the subjects will be allowed to consume alcohol and abstain for 24 hours prior to testing of the brain activity. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) will be utilized to scan the four parts of the brain to measure brain activity before and after intoxication. MRI is preferred because it has a greater capability of contrasting available soft tissue in the brain and provides deeper details of anatomy. Additionally, the imaging technique is more specific and sensitive to brain abnormalities. Lastly, subjects will be at a lower risk of experiencing lethal allergic reactions. Participants will be scanned before and immediately after a specific period of alcohol consumption.
Expected results: Consistent with previous studies, activity in the hippocampus, amygdala, neocortex, and the prefrontal cortex are expected to slow down after alcohol intake. Deactivation is likely to be higher with the increased intake of the substance. McKinney and Coyle (2004) examined the effects of drinking on memory and psychomotor. They found out that memory and psychomotor were impaired in the next day after a night of drinking.
Potential problems with the study: It might be hard to measure the right alcohol consumption in order to avoid blackouts.
McKinney, Adele and Coyle, Kieran. “Next Day Effects of a Normal Night’s Drinking on Memory and Psychomotor Performance”. Alcohol and Alcoholism, vol. 39, no. 6. 11 Oct. 2004. https://academic.oup.com/alcalc/article/39/6/509/211421. 15 July 2019
The University of Queensland. “Where are Memories Stored in the Brain?” Queensland Brain Institute. 23 July 2018. https://qbi.uq.edu.au/brain-basics/memory/where-are-memories-stored. 15 July 2019.