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Binge Drinking Damages Young Brains

By July 14, 2011

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Because the brain continues to develop into young adulthood, binge drinking can cause serious damage to the brains of adolescents and young adults in their twenties. High resolution brain scans have pinpointed exactly which areas of the brain that are damaged the most.

Binge drinking is consuming four or more drinks in one session for females, five or more for males.

A first of its kind study at the University of Cincinnati examined the brains of 29 weekend binge drinkers, aged 18 to 25, to see how alcohol may be affecting them. Previous studies have shown that alcohol can affect the white matter, but the Cincinnati study looked at the effect on the brain's grey matter.

Frontal Cortex Damage

The high resolution images revealed that binge drinking was linked to cortical-thinning of the pre-frontal cortex. The researchers, led by Tim McQueeny, found that the greater the number of drinks consumed, the greater the cortical thinning.

This finding is important because that is the part of the brain that is associated with paying attention, planning, making decision, processing emotions and controlling impulses which lead to irrational behavior.

"Alcohol might be neurotoxic to the neuron cells, or, since the brain is developing in one's 20s, it could be interacting with developmental factors and possibly altering the ways in which the brain is still growing," McQueeny said in a news release.

The researchers pointed out that the brain damage seen in their study does reverse itself with alcohol abstinence. There is also evidence, the researchers said, that drinking below the binge level may be less harmful.

Source: McQueeny's research was presented at the 34th annual meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism in Atlanta.

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