Binge drinking while young could cause changes in the brain

European research has found that binge drinking could have a worrying effect on the brains of young people, which represent some of the first signs of alcohol-induced brain damage.

Carried out by the University of Minho in Portugal, the study looked at 80 Spanish college students to see if the resting brains of binge-drinking college students showed any differences when compared to the brains of their non-binge drinking counterparts.

“A number of studies have assessed the effects of binge drinking in young adults during different tasks involving cognitive processes such as attention or working memory,” explained lead author Eduardo López-Caneda. “However, there are hardly any studies assessing if the brains of binge drinkers show differences when they are at rest, and not focused on a task.”

The participants were asked to complete a questionnaire about their drinking habits. Those that had participated in at least one binge drinking session within the previous month were considered to be binge drinkers. Non-bingers were those who had never binged before.

The team then attached electrodes to the participants’ scalps to assess electrical activity in various brain regions.

The results showed that when compared with the non-binge drinkers, the binge drinkers’ brain activity was altered when at rest. These participants showed significantly higher measurements of specific electrical activity known as beta and theta oscillations in brain regions called the right temporal lobe and bilateral occipital cortex, which suggest a decreased ability to respond to external stimuli and potential difficulties in information processing capacity.

Perhaps surprisingly, previous studies have also found very similar brain changes in adult chronic alcoholics, with the team pointing out that although the college students engaged in binge-drinking this did not mean they fit the criteria for alcoholism.

López-Caneda suggested that as the brain of teens are still developing, they may be more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol abuse.

The team believe that further research is now needed to confirm if the brain changes are caused by binge drinking behavior.

Previous research has also linked binge drinking to a variety of other negative consequences including neurocognitive deficits, poor academic performance, and risky sexual behavior.

The findings can be found published online in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.
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