Teen Binge Drinking Can
Do Long-Term Brain Damage
Mon Feb 14, 2005 9:48 PM GMT
By Amy Norton
Health) - Mounting evidence shows that the still-maturing teenage
brain is particularly susceptible to damage from heavy drinking,
according to a report published Monday.
of recent studies have shown that teenagers who abuse alcohol have
problems with memory, learning and other brain functions compared
with their peers, while animal research suggests such effects could
last into adulthood.
coming from a number of scientific areas, is making it more and
more clear that the teenage brain is particularly vulnerable to
the damaging effects of alcohol, according to Dr. Peter M. Monti
of Brown University in Providence. Rhode Island.
organize a recent symposium of the Research Society on Alcoholism
held in Vancouver, Canada. The new report, published in the journal
Alcohol: Clinical and Experimental Research, summarizes research
presented at the meeting.
the findings come from research using functional MRI to image brain
activity in teenagers with drinking problems and those without.
In one study, boys and girls with alcohol use disorders -- which
refers to both alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence -- showed greater
brain activity than other adolescents during a memory test, though
test scores were similar in both groups.
pattern emerged when women ages 18 to 25 took the same test. Compared
with others their age, young women who'd had an alcohol problem
since adolescence showed less brain activity during the memory task
and had a poorer performance.
according to the researchers, suggest that in the early stages of
an alcohol use disorder, the brain may try to compensate by "recruiting"
additional neurons to perform a given task. But if the drinking
continues into young adulthood, the damage to brain cells may grow
and become too much for the brain to overcome.
presented at the symposium focused on the memory loss associated
with so-called blackouts. An "alarmingly" high number
of young drinkers, according to researchers, have at times had so
much to drink that they could not remember what they did during
the binge. In one survey of college students, half of those who
drank said they'd had at least one blackout in their lives.
whether teenagers are more susceptible to blackouts than adults
are, but animal research suggests that in adolescents, a part of
the brain involved in forming memories may be particularly vulnerable
to the effects of alcohol.
in a study of rats, researchers at the University of North Carolina,
Chapel Hill, found that binge drinking damaged parts of the adolescent
brain that were left unharmed in the adult rat brain.
researchers have also found evidence that early drinking-induced
brain damage could be lasting. In one experiment, adult rats that
had been "binge-drinkers" as adolescents showed differences
in brain structures that transport the chemical serotonin, which
is involved in such essentials as mood regulation and memory.
in rats does not necessarily translate to humans, animal studies
are important in understanding the consequences of teen drinking,
Monti told Reuters Health. For one thing, researchers obviously
cannot give alcohol to teenagers and then see what happens to their
brains. In addition, Monti noted, studying genetically altered rats,
for instance, can give insight into the genetic underpinnings of
studies pointing to the harm done to the brain by adolescent drinking,
one of the remaining challenges is getting kids to care, according
to Monti, whose own research focuses on that issue. Drinking, and
the immediate effects that come with it -- from blackouts to hangovers
-- are often viewed as part of growing up.
kid," Monti said, "thinks others kids are drinking more
than they are."
research has shown that some teenagers will respond to an anti-drinking
message. In a study of 18- and 19-year-olds whose drinking had landed
them in the emergency room, Monti and his colleagues found that
a brief counseling session in the ER helped cut patients' rates
of drinking and driving, as well as alcohol-related injuries.
Alcohol: Clinical and Experimental Research, February 2005.
2005. All Rights Reserved.