To determine how alcohol use differentially affects brain functioning in male and female adolescents.
Adolescents with alcohol use disorders (AUDs; 7 female, 11 male) and control adolescents without AUDs (9 female, 12 male), aged 14−17 years, performed spatial working memory and vigilance tasks during functional magnetic resonance imaging.
Gender, AUD and their interaction were significantly associated with brain activation patterns to the tasks. There were interactions in the superior frontal, superior temporal, cingulate and fusiform regions, in which female and male adolescents with AUDs showed a different brain response from each other and control subjects. Overall, female adolescents with AUDs showed a greater departure from normal activation patterns than male adolescents with AUD.
Adolescent alcohol involvement may affect male and female brains differently, and adolescent females may be somewhat more vulnerable to adverse alcohol effects. With continued drinking, these adolescents may be at an increased risk for behavioural deficits.