Effects of acute alcohol administration on working memory: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Suzanne Spinola, Martin J. De Vita, Christina E. Gilmour, Stephen A. Maisto

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Rationale: Alcohol-induced executive function deficits may underlie associations between alcohol, self-regulation, and hazardous behaviors. Studies examining the effects of alcohol administration on working memory, an important executive functioning component, have produced mixed findings. Acute alcohol effects on working memory remain unclear. Objectives: We aimed to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis on the effects of acute alcohol administration on working memory outcomes in studies of healthy adults. Methods: We performed a systematic search of PubMed, MEDLINE, and PsycINFO from inception to June 2021. Studies were included if they met criteria, including healthy participants and administration of quantified alcohol doses against comparative controls. Data extracted included primary working memory outcomes, alcohol doses, and study characteristics. Study quality was assessed using an established validity measure. Working memory task type, alcohol dose, control condition type, and sex/gender composition were explored as moderators using mixed-effects models and meta-regressions. Results: Thirty-two studies (1629 participants) provided sufficient data for 54 comparisons between alcohol and control conditions. Random-effects meta-analysis indicated that alcohol administration produced significant, small- to medium-sized working memory decrements (g [95% CI] = − 0.300 [− 0.390 to − 0.211], p < 0.001). Moderation analyses suggested that these effects differed as a function of task type, dose, control condition type, and sex/gender composition. The average quality rating across studies was good. Conclusions: Alcohol administration significantly impaired working memory performance, particularly when executive-related manipulation processes were involved. Future research is needed to investigate how alcohol-induced working memory impairments relate to compromised self-regulation, hazardous behavior, and negative drinking consequences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)695-708
Number of pages14
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • Administration
  • Alcohol
  • Meta-analysis
  • Systematic review
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology


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