This the second and final submission of a project designed to identify the neurobiological causes and consequences of binge drinking in college students using brain imaging and behavioral measures of disinibition and reward processing. Binge drinking or drinking large amounts of alcohol on a single occasion is increasing in college students and a growing subset of students engage in "extreme bingeing", drinking two or three times more on one occasion than the standard definition of bingeing. This is troubling because the prefrontal cortex (PFC) continues to develop into the early 20's and the adolescent brain is particularly sensitive to the effects of alcohol use. ??Aspects of behavioral disinhibition and reward processing deficits are known to be associated with a general vulnerability toward a spectrum of psychopathological and substance use disorders including alcohol use disorders (AUDs). Advances in two areas of research provide the rationale for this project. One is an increase in imaging studies of AUDs indicating that functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) activations offer more sensitive assays of disinhibition and reward processing deficits than other measures. The 2nd is growing neuroimaging literature indicating that top-down control systems in prefrontal cortex (PFC) mature linearly from early adolescence into the early twenties whereas ventral striatal areas of the reward system mature in mid-adolescence. Asymmetric maturation of top-down PFC networks vs the subcortical reward system suggests that an early age of first drink (AFD) and continued early bingeing would result in abnormalities in both reward processing- and response inhibition- networks when assessed in the 1st year of college. In contrast, initiation of binge drinking at college entry would predominantly impact the response inhibition network since the reward system is mature. Bingeing throughout the next two years would further impair both brain networks in subjects with an early AFD, and may begin to impair reward networks in college-entry initiates of bingeing. ??This project will assess the relationship of typical and extreme bingeing to measures of brain function and structure as well as to measures of risky decision making, and to aspects of personality mental abilities related to AUDS in college students. We will use fMRI during two tasks that activate brain systems that have been shown to be involved in problematic alcohol use. One task requires behavioral inhibition (Go/NoGo task) that is mediated by the dorsolateral PFC. The other task permits subject's to earn money during the fMRI scan and activates ventral brain reward systems and ventromedial PFC. A battery of laboratory and self-report measures of personality and mental abilities will also be given and the inter-relationships of the brain imagin and behavioral measures will be assessed. The imaging and behavioral battery will be administered again after 2 years to assess relationships of continuing bingeing to reward and response inhibition processes. The long-term goal of the project is improved efficacy of behavioral interventions into bingeing by using information concerning abnormalities identified by brain imaging.

Public Health Relevance

Binge drinking is an increasing problem in adolescents and young adults across the country, costing millions to the public health system and potentially damaging the brain and intellectual functions. This project will study the reward system of the brain, brain systems involved in impulsive action, and cognitive processes and personality traits that lead to binge drinking as well as assessing the effects of alcohol on the brain in order to develop more effective diagnostic and intervention approaches.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Research Project (R01)
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Adult Psychopathology and Disorders of Aging Study Section (APDA)
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Witt, Ellen
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University of Iowa
Schools of Medicine
Iowa City
United States
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