Binge Drinking Affects Brain, Memory

Young Brains More Vulnerable Than Adults'

Ways Binge Drinking affects the Brain
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That old joke about going out drinking to kill a few brain cells may not be so funny anymore.

Young people who binge drink could be risking serious damage to their brains now and increasing memory loss later in adulthood, according to new research. Adolescents may be even more vulnerable to brain damage from excessive drinking than older drinkers.

Researchers at Duke University, studied frequent binge exposure to alcohol in rats to compare the effects of binge drinking on younger and older rats.

The animals were given doses of alcohol which were comparable to multiple instances of binge drinking in humans.

Heavy Drinking Is the Problem

"We are not concerned about college students who only drink one or two drinks every now and then. We are concerned about heavy drinkers." lead author Dr. Aaron M. White said. "The alcohol dose was very high because we don't know what is an appropriate dose, so we want to show an effect if one is present."

"We believe that the adolescent brain is more vulnerable to the neurotoxic effects of alcohol than the adult brain," he said. Alcohol was found to impair activity in the brain receptors responsible for memory and learning.

Later Memory Loss

Researchers gave the adolescent rats alcohol in a binge pattern where they received a lot of alcohol one day, then they had a day off. This was repeated over a 20-day period.

After a 20-day break, the rats were tested in mazes to determine their basic motor and memory skills.

The "binge drinking" adolescent rats were compared with adult rats that were also given high amounts of alcohol, and to both adult and adolescent rats that were not exposed to binge drinking.

Adolescent Drinking Affects Adult Memory

There was no difference in test performance between the groups of rats until they were given more alcohol.

After a moderate dose of alcohol, the rat exposed to binge drinking during adolescence exhibited memory loss.

"What we found was that the group that was most affected -- made the most errors -- was the group that had the binge pattern exposure as adolescents," White said. "These rats had a more difficult time finding their way through a maze that they were trained to navigate."

Long-Lasting Effects of Teen Drinking

The researchers concluded that their findings "indicate that binge pattern exposure to ethanol during adolescence enhances responsiveness to the memory-impairing effects of ethanol in adulthood."

"The implications of this study are that teenagers who drink heavily and often may be susceptible to the neurobehavioral effects of alcohol than would adults with similar drinking experiences," Dr. David McKinzie, assistant professor at the Indiana University School of Medicine told reporters. "Of special concern is the possibility that the effects of early chronic drinking may have long-lasting consequences."

More Resources

Do You Know the Risk Factors for Underage Drinking?
Alcohol is the most widely used and abused drug among youth and causes serious and potentially life-threatening problems.

Study Identifies Top Risk Factors for Teen Substance Abuse
The risk that teens will abuse substances increases sharply if they are highly stressed, frequently bored or have substantial amounts of spending money.

Sources:

White AM, et al. "Binge Pattern Ethanol Exposure in Adolescent and Adult Rats: Differential Impact on Subsequent Responsiveness to Ethanol." Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research August 2000.

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