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Effects of Alcohol and Tobacco Disorders on Cognition in Middle Age

Posted in Research

Many of the effects of alcohol and tobacco are seen immediately. Alcohol can lower inhibitions and cause behaviors that would not otherwise be seen in individuals, and tobacco can mediate stress in those who use it. Alcohol and cigarette disorders can show pathologically negative behavior patterns that affect many areas, from social to financial.

While alcohol and tobacco disorders can cause more immediate problems in decision-making, research has not established whether cognition is affected in the individual as they age. A recent study by Caspers, Arndt, Yucuis, McKirgan and Spinks looks at the effects of alcohol and cigarette use disorders on measures of cognition in individuals of middle age.

The researchers wanted to look at how alcohol- and tobacco-use disorders affected global and specific cognitive capacity in middle age.

Participants in the study ranged in age from 31 to 60 years old, and there were 118 men and 169 women. A semistructured interview was conducted to determine each participant’s lifetime diagnoses, and to collect information about current usage of alcohol and cigarettes.

The researchers also administered a comprehensive neurocognitive assessment that determined global cognition, memory and executive functioning abilities. The Iowa Test of Basic Skills was employed to examine baseline cognition, based on tests administered from third through eighth grade.

The study used repeated-measures analysis of variance. Covariates included baseline cognition, current depression symptoms, and medication use.

The results of the study show that cognition in men is not significantly affected by lifetime alcohol- and tobacco-use disorders. Women who are diagnosed with tobacco dependence using the DSM-IV measures were less successful on measures of global cognition and executive functioning.

Women also showed a higher working memory when diagnosed with lifetime alcohol abuse or dependence, based on DSM-IV criteria. Men did not show the same association.
The results of the study indicate that there may be few negative effects of alcohol-use disorders on cognition in middle age. The effects may be especially subtle if current alcohol use is minimal.
The study did show some lasting effects of tobacco use on the ability of women in middle age. An association was shown between tobacco use and lower scores in the areas of visualspatial abilities, processing speed and executive functioning abilities.
While many effects of alcohol and tobacco abuse are dangerous both physically and psychologically, it appears that the effects on cognitive abilities in middle age may not be as severe as expected.