Men and women with a history of alcohol abuse may not see long-term negative effects on their memory, but female smokers do, suggests a new study.
In a study, which involved 287 men and women aged 31 to 60, researchers found that those with past alcohol-use disorders performed similarly on standard tests of cognitive function as those with no past drinking problems.
However, the findings were not as positive when it came to tobacco.
In general, women who had ever been addicted to smoking had lower scores on certain cognitive tests than their nonsmoking counterparts. The same pattern was not true of men, however, the researchers report in the March issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.
The reasons for the disparate findings on alcohol and smoking are not fully clear. Nor do they necessarily mean that serious alcohol problems would not affect long-term memory and other cognitive abilities; most study participants who had ever had drinking problems met the criteria for alcohol abuse rather than the more serious diagnosis of dependence.
Alcohol abuse was diagnosed when people reported one symptom of problem drinking-drinking and driving, for instance, or failing to meet work or school obligations as a result of drinking. Dependence, on the other hand, required people to have at least three symptoms-such as needing to drink more and more to achieve the same effects and experiencing physical withdrawal symptoms when they did not drink.
If more study participants had been alcohol dependent, the findings on cognition might have been different, says lead researcher Dr. Kristin Caspers, an assistant research scientist in the department of psychiatry at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
But the bottom line, she says, is that people with a history of alcohol abuse appear not to be "doomed" to suffer cognitive effects when current levels of drinking are in the light to moderate range.