Binge watching TV shows isn’t the only popular binging activity in recent years. An increasing number of Americans, in particular young women, have also taken to binge drinking. Scientists say however that you should stop while you still have the power to change anything.
A new study conducted on rats shows that an adult brain that’s constantly drowned its sorrows and joys in alcohol during its formative years looks different and works differently than one that hasn’t. The changes aren’t for the better but for the worse.
A young brain that’s frequently been put through drinking benders throughout adolescence and young adulthood will show abnormalities in the structure and function of the hippocampus, a region closely associated with learning and memory, once it has matured.
What this means, is that they are most likely to have a bad memory, experience attention and judgment problems, and encounter difficulty in learning new skills.
The danger does not stop there as the physical changes in hippocampal seem to make the brain highly vulnerable to injury if the person suffers a trauma or disease.
It is important to note that the brains of the rats that were given alcohol during their period of development showed neurons with stunted and misshapen connections to other neurons. Those neurons over-reacted when stimulated and the brains of adult rats basically acted and reacted like the brains of young, immature rats. They showed behavioral immaturity in particular.
Researchers themselves were surprised by the discovery, with Scott Swartzwelder, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, stating that “At first blush, you would think the animals would be smarter, but that’s the opposite of what we found”.
Lead author Mary-Louise Risher, a post-doctoral researcher in the Duke Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, suggested that “It’s quite possible that alcohol disrupts the maturation process, which can affect these cognitive function later on” and explained that “In the eyes of the law, once people reach the age of 18, they are considered adult but the brain continues to mature and refine all the way into the mid-20s”.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams per deciliter. Men usually achieve it after consuming 5 drinks in about 2 hours, women usually achieve it after consuming 4 drinks in about 2 hours.
The threat is a real one as the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention published a study in 2005, effectively showing that 90% of alcohol consumed by young people under the age of 21 is in the form of binge drinking.
Another study published earlier this month showed that the growing rate of binge drinkers is higher among women than among men. Between the years 2005 and 2012 it increased by 17.5% for women, and only by 4.9% for men, though researchers offered no reason for why this is happening.
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