Alcohol consumption more severely affects women than men, according to a new study by researchers at RTI International, Pavlov Medical University, Leningrad Regional Center of Addictions, Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

The study, published in the May issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, found that women become alcohol dependent more quickly than men and that alcohol more severely impairs women's cognitive functioning including perceptual and visual planning and processing, working memory and motor control.

"Our studied showed that female alcoholics experience a greater decrement in cognitive and motor functions and sustain an accelerated decline in processing speed than males," said Barbara Flannery, Ph.D., research psychologist at RTI. "Our findings confirm and extend prior research that alcohol exerts more profound adverse effect more quickly on women compared to men."

The study was conducted from 2003 to 2005 in St. Petersburg, Russia at the Pavlov State Medical University and the Leningrad Regional Center of Addictions.

Alcoholic patients were tested three weeks after detoxification on a variety of executive (i.e., higher-order) cognitive skills. Nonalcoholic participants were given the same tests. The study found that female alcoholic participants responded more slowly on tasks that measured reaction times than other groups, suggesting that alcohol more significantly impairs women's working memory processes. Female alcoholics also performed more poorly than male alcoholics on tests of spatial planning, problem solving and cognitive flexibility.

The researchers found that female alcoholics were younger than males, had a shorter duration of alcohol dependence and fewer years of alcohol use than the male alcoholic subjects. The study suggests that alcohol dependent women experience cognitive problems associated with alcohol abuse in addition to the well-known findings of greater negative physiological effects.