Adolescent Binge Drinking Can Cause Permanent Brain Damage
February 24, 2005 8:49 PM
Adolescent binge drinking may cause permanent brain damage, a recent study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has found. The study was published in this month's issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
Researchers Fulton T. Crews and Kim Nixon from the university's Bowles Center for Alcoholism Studies examined the effects of binge drinking in a study partly funded by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
The researchers studied two groups of rats. One group consisted of adolescent rats, aged 28 to 42 days and the other control group consisted of adult rats. The researchers gave the rats large amounts of alcohol mixed with nutritional drinks for four consecutive days. The alcohol consumed was large enough to create high blood levels.
Rats from both groups experienced brain damage after binge drinking, but only the adolescents had experienced damage to the frontal association cortex, anterior piriform and perirhinal cortcices parts of the brain. In humans, these areas are represented by the orbital frontal and temporal cortical areas, which control memory, emotions and decision making, according to the Website of the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies.
SF State psychology professor Virginia Saunders said that while the human brain is more complex than a ratís, research on rats can give some insight into the human brain. Saunders also said rats go through a period of adolescence and experience some of the same physiological changes as humans.
"In the neural sense their brains are composed like ours, ours is just more complex. Itís similar enough that we can begin to make those generalizations knowing that our brains are more complex. We can get the basic answers," said Saunders.
Saunders is conducting a long-term research project on the behavioral markers of alcoholism among college students. Behavioral markers are acts of behavior they may indicate a person is genetically prone to alcoholism, and could face alcohol abuse problems in the future if they drink heavily in college. According to Saunders, behavioral markers substitute expensive DNA tests showing the same factor.
Saunders said that while most research focuses in on the long-term effects of alcohol abuse, she is not surprised by the findings of the study.
"Thatís true, it could happen in just one four-day episode, it will definitely happen if you continue. Thatís the kind of binge that could cause permanent damage," Saunders said.
At SF State, several students under the age of 21 said that the type of binge drinking described in the study is not uncommon among people of their age.
Film major Alan Fackler, 18, lives at the Mary Ward Hall. He said he knows many people who sometimes or often drink alcohol for four days at a time.
"This is college, man, people drink. I know a lot of people who can take that, four days in a row," Alan said.
Liberal Arts major Rachel, 18, said she had gone through a four day period of alcohol drinking at least once, during a trip to Mexico with her friend, psychology major Kelly, 19.
Both said other students do it as well.
"Itís not common, but it happens," Rachel said.
Kelly and Rachel, who live in the dorms, said they believed the dorm lifestyle contributes to heavy drinking habits. Fackler, however, said he believed freshmen in general drink a lot.
"It doesnít have anything to do with the dorms, it has more to do with independence," Fackler said. "I think a lot of people drink in college because itís our first time away from home."
Both Kelly and Rachel said they are not likely to stop drinking, despite knowing the consequences of heavy drinking and being aware of the risk of liver damage.
"Itís something I think about, but itís not gonna make me stop," Kelly said.
Besides the type of brain damage described in the study, there are also other risks related to binge drinking, said Saunders. For students that have genetic factors indicating an increased risk of alcoholism, heavy drinking in college could lead to alcohol abuse or alcoholism, Saunders said.
"Iíve watched very good students disappear just because of alcohol problems," Saunders said. They disappeared in the level of not being very successful in their lives, not being able to maintain personal relationships or jobs on a regular basis."
"Many college students can go through the heavy drinking years of college, come out on the other side and learn to drink responsibly, some students are not just able to," Saunders said.
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