Binge drinking can damage young brains

Wed Jun 29, 2011 5:59pm EDT
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By Richard Chang

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Young binge drinkers could be doing serious damage -- to their brain.

New research by scientists at the University of Cincinnati (UC) has shown that too much alcohol can harm brain cells in still-growing brains.

"Alcohol might be neurotoxic to the neuron cells," said Tim McQueeny, a UC doctoral student and co-researcher in the pilot study.

"Or, since the brain is developing in one's 20s, it could be interacting with developmental factors and possibly altering the ways in which the brain is still growing," he added.

Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks in a row for women and five or more drinks for men. McQueeny explained that a drink could be 1.5 ounces (44 ml) of hard liquor, 12 ounces (354 ml) of beer, or 4 to 5 ounces (118 to 147 ml) of wine, which all contain the same amount of alcohol.

"It didn't matter what kind of drink," said McQueeny, "when the combined alcohol reaches the binge level we see the effects."

The findings are important because figures from a National Institute on Drug Abuse report show that about 42 percent of young American adults aged 18 to 25 have engaged in binge drinking.

The researchers used high-resolution scans to study the brains of 29 weekend binge drinkers. They found changes in the pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain that governs attention, planning, decision-making and processing emotions and controlling impulses leading to irrational behavior.   Continued...

<p>A woman lies on the street during a night out in Newcastle, northern England May 3, 2009. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis</p>