Binge drinking has alarming effects on brains of teenagers
The State Column, Dan Taylor | April 29, 2015
The study found that people who binge at a young age can permanently damage the part of the brain that is responsible for learning and memory.
An alarming new study has been released by researchers at Duke University that has found that those who drink alcohol in their teenage years could seriously damage their brains in a way that will make memory and learning difficult later in life.
Brains don’t fully mature in humans until the mid-20s, so drinking before that time period to a heavy extent will result in some significant damage and interrupt the maturation process, said lead author Mary-Louise Risher, who is a post-doctoral researcher at Duke.
Risher and her colleagues explored the issue using rodents whose brains were still developing. They gave alcohol to them during the adolescent phase — enough that, proportionally, it would cause impairment in a human but not to a blackout level. After a little while, the team stopped giving the rodents alcohol and let them grow into adulthood, which takes about 24 to 29 days.
After that, a small electrical pulse was sent to the hippocampus portion of the rodents’ brains. This part of the brain controls learning and memory.
The research team measured how the brain’s synapses work when it attempts to learn a new task or remember past events, and they found that the alcohol exposure changed the way the hippocampus works, even even the structure of the cells.
The findings reinforce the message to teenagers of the consequences of drinking. But there are, of course, many other problems with underage drinking. Mothers Against Drunk Driving notes that one in six teens engage in binge drinking, but only one in 100 parents actually believe that their kid could be capable of it. Also, teenage alcohol abuse results in 4,700 deaths each year, which is more than all illegal drugs combined. In addition, kids who start drinking at an early age are seven times more likely to be in an alcohol-related accident.
The research team’s findings were published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research recently.