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Alcohol use and cognitive functioning in young adults: an observational and Mendelian randomisation study

By Liam Mahedy, Steph Suddell, Caroline Skirrow, Robyn E Wootton, Gwen S Fernandes, Jon Heron, Matt Field, Matthew Hickman, Marcus R Munafo

Posted 12 Sep 2019
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/19003327

Background and AimsThere have been few longitudinal studies of association between alcohol use and cognitive functioning in young people. We aim to examine whether alcohol use is a causal risk factor for deficient cognitive functioning in young adults. DesignLinear regression was used to examine the relationship between longitudinal latent class patterns of binge drinking and subsequent cognitive functioning. Two-sample Mendelian randomisation (MR) tested evidence for the causal relationship between alcohol use and cognitive functioning. SettingSouth West England. ParticipantsThe observational study comprised of 3,155 adolescents and their parents (fully adjusted models) from ALSPAC. Genetic instruments for alcohol use were based on almost 1,000,000 individuals from GSCAN. Genetic instruments for the cognitive outcomes were based on 2,500 individuals from ALSPAC. MeasurementsBinge drinking was assessed at approximately 16, 17, 18, 21, and 23 years. Cognitive functioning comprised working memory, response inhibition, and emotion recognition assessed at 24 years of age. 99-independent genome-wide significant SNPs associated with number of drinks per week was used as the genetic instrument for alcohol consumption. Potential confounders were included in the observational analyses. FindingsFour binge drinking classes were identified: low-risk (41%), early-onset monthly (19%), adult frequent (23%), and early-onset frequent (17%). We found insufficient evidence to support an association between early-onset frequent binge drinking and cognitive functioning: working memory (b=0.09, 95%CI=-0.10 to 0.28), response inhibition (b=0.70, 95%CI=-10.55 to 11.95), and emotion recognition (b=0.01, 95%CI=-0.01 to 0.02) compared to low-risk drinkers. Two-sample MR analyses similarly provided little evidence that alcohol use is associated with deficits in working memory using the inverse variance weight (b=0.29, 95%CI=-0.42 to 0.99), response inhibition (b=-0.32, 95%CI=-1.04 to 0.39), and emotion recognition (b=0.03, 95%CI=-0.55 to 0.61). ConclusionsBinge drinking in adolescence and early adulthood may not be causally related to working memory, response inhibition, and emotion recognition in youths.

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