Binge Drinking Among Young Adults May Be Causing Serious Brain Damage

Posted on 7/03/2011 by meg

A new study from the University of Cincinnati has shown that binge drinking among adolescents and young adults may be causing serious damage to their developing brains.

Researchers examined high-resolution brain images of 29 weekend binge drinkers between the ages of 18 and 25. For the purposes of their study, researchers consider binge-drinking as consuming four or more drinks at once for females and five or more drinks for males.

Results showed that binge-drinking was linked to a thinning of the pre-frontal cortex, a section of the brain responsible for paying attention, planning and making decisions, processing emotions and controlling impulses leading to irrational behavior.

A study of the brain's gray matter, the part of the brain that does the thinking, receiving and transmitting of messages, revealed the possibility that it may be affected differently than the brain’s white matter. Evidence already exists that binge drinking is associated with reduced consistency in the white matter, a tissue through which messages pass between different areas of gray matter within the nervous system, however there may be serious affects on the grey matter, regions in the brain involved in muscle control, sensory perception, memory, emotions, and speech.

Tim McQueeny, a doctoral student in the UC Department of Psychology, is concerned that binge-drinking in one’s early 20s may be altering brain development, thereby permanently damaging the way in which the brain functions.

Unfortunately, past research has focused more on male pathological and adult populations, therefore research on the affects of binge-drinking among young adults is seriously lacking.
“We're looking at developmental aspects at an age when binge drinking rates are highest, and we're also looking at gender effects," says McQueeny. "There might actually be indications of early micro-structural damage without the onset of pathological symptoms such as abuse, or dependence on alcohol."
Additional research is needed to educate people on the dangers of binge-drinking in young adulthood in order to prevent permanent damage. For instance, preliminary evidence in this study does suggest that increased abstinence from binge drinking may in fact help in the recovery of damaged gray matter. In addition, drinking just below binge level may also be less harmful.

Although the results of this small sample seem devastating, binge-drinking at that age appears to be widely accepted and very little attention is given to the threat that it may be to the developing brain, therefore further investigation may be quite eye-opening.

A few statistics according to MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving)…

  • Parents' drinking behavior and favorable attitudes about drinking have been positively associated with adolescents' initiating and continuing drinking.
  • Youth who drink before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who begin drinking at age 21.
  • An early age of drinking onset is associated with alcohol-related violence not only among persons under age 21 but among adults as well.
  • Research continues to show that young drivers are more often involved in alcohol-related crashes than any other comparable age group. Alcohol-crash involvement rates, share of the alcohol-crash problem and alcohol-crash risk all reach their peaks with young drivers, with the peaks for fatal crashes occurring at age 21.
  • Each year, college students spend approximately $5.5 billion on alcohol- more than they spend on soft drinks, milk, juice, tea, coffee and books combined.
  • Teenagers are not well informed about alcohol's effects. Nearly one-third of the teens responding to a 1998 American Academy of Pediatrics survey mistakenly believed that a 12-ounce can of beer contains less alcohol than a standard shot of distilled sprits.
  • The median age at which children begin drinking is 13. Young people who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who begin drinking at age 21.
  • More than 40 percent of individuals who start drinking before the age of 13 will develop alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence at some point in their lives.
Possible Brain Damage in Young Adult Binge-Drinkers Revealed in New Study
Statistics Relating to Impaired Driving and Youth from MADD U.S.


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