Do executive functions predict binge-drinking patterns? Evidence from a longitudinal study in young adulthood

Impairments in executive functions (EFs) are related to binge drinking in young adulthood, but research on how EFs influence future binge drinking is lacking.


Background: The aim of the current report is therefore to investigate the association between various EFs and later severity of, and change in, binge drinking over a prolonged period during young adulthood.

Methods: At baseline, 121 students reported on their alcohol habits (Alcohol use disorder identification test; Alcohol use questionnaire). Concurrently, EFs [working memory, reversal, set-shifting, response inhibition, response monitoring and decision-making (with ambiguity and implicit risk)] were assessed. Eighteen months later, information on alcohol habits for 103 of the participants were gathered. Data were analyzed by means of multilevel regression modeling.

Results: Future severity of binge drinking was uniquely predicted by performance on the Information sampling task, assessing risky decision-making (β = -1.86, 95% CI: -3.69, -0.04). None of the study variables predicted severity or change in binge drinking.

Conclusion: Future severity of binge drinking was associated with making risky decisions in the prospect for gain, suggesting reward hypersensitivity. Future studies should aim at clarifying whether there is a causal association between decision-making style and binge drinking. Performance on all executive tasks was unrelated to change in binge drinking patterns; however, the finding was limited by overall small changes, and needs to be confirmed with longer follow-up periods.

Frontiers in Psychology, 2017, doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00489

Published Apr. 10, 2017 7:00 AM