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Binge Drinking Affects Brain, Memory

Young Brains More Vulnerable Than Adults'

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Updated October 19, 2013

That old joke about going out drinking to kill a few brain cells may not be so funny any more.

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.

"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 told reporters. "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.

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."

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

The study was published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

More Resources

  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Alcoholism
  4. Effects of Alcohol
  5. Health Effects of Alcohol
  6. Brain Damage and Alcohol
  7. Binge Drinking Affects Brain, Memory

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