Newswise — Executive functions of the brain’s frontal lobes help individuals regulate their behavior and work toward long-term goals. Working memory (WM), the ability to maintain and process information during short periods of time, is a critical executive function. Alcohol is known to impair executive functioning, which can in turn contribute to alcohol use disorder (AUD) progression and to poorer treatment outcomes. This study investigated whether WM training could reduce alcohol use through improved cognitive functioning.
Researchers recruited 50 individuals with an AUD (25 females, 25 males) from an outpatient addiction clinic. Study participants were randomized to receive either five weeks of active WM training – online, at home – or to a control group. All participants had weekly follow-up visits. Outcome measures included an assessment of WM functioning, changes in self-reported heavy drinking and craving, and performance on other neuropsychological tasks.
Cognitive training improved verbal WM functioning in individuals with an AUD, but did not reduce heavy drinking or affect other cognitive functions. The researchers noted that WM training appeared to reduce the number of drinks per drinking occasion, and recommended that future research investigate whether WM training can help improve outcomes when offered as an add-on to other treatments.