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Binge Drinking May Damage Teens' Brains
Date:4/22/2009

'White matter' impairment could mean a 10% decline in information recall, scientists say,,,,

WEDNESDAY, April 22 (HealthDay News) -- When teens go on a binge drinking episode, they may be doing serious damage to the sensitive "white matter" in their brain, a new MRI-based study suggests.

White matter is involved in relaying information between brain cells, the researchers said. This means that damage caused to the developing brain by bouts of heavy drinking could affect thinking and memory, even lowering school performance.

Although white matter impairment has been seen in the brains of adult alcoholics, "we were somewhat surprised that these adolescents who had histories of binge drinking showed significantly poorer quality of their white matter," said lead researcher Susan F. Tapert, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, and director of Substance Abuse/Mental Illness at the VA San Diego Healthcare System.

The cause of the damage is not fully understood, Tapert said. "It could be that episodes of binge drinking during the teenage years, when their brain is still developing, could have adversely influenced the brain's white matter development," she said.

Heavy drinking among adolescents remains a major problem, Tapert said. About 55 percent of high school seniors report having been drunk, and 25 percent say they have had five or more drinks on at least one day over the past two weeks, she said. That means that "a quarter of our high school seniors could be at risk for these kind of problems," the researcher believes.

The report was published in the April 22 online edition of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

For the study, Tapert's team used a type of MRI imaging called diffusion tensor imaging to look at the brains of 28 teenagers. Among these individuals, 14 had a history of binge drinking, which is defined as having co
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