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Spring Break Boozing May Put Young Brains at Risk

SATURDAY, March 17 (HealthDay News) -- Teens and young adults who binge drink during spring break or at any other time may be risking brain damage, an expert warns.

Binge drinking, defined in this case as the consumption of four alcoholic drinks by males and three drinks by females in a day, could be a sign of alcohol dependency or addiction, said Dr. Alicia Ann Kowalchuk, medical director of the InSight alcohol and drug intervention program at the Harris County Hospital District in Houston.

The brain continues to develop through age 25, Kowalchuk said, and alcohol, particularly episodes of binge drinking, affects the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that handles impulse control and decision making.

"The developmental delay of this area of the brain caused by binge drinking can make it hard for young people to make healthy choices about acceptable alcohol use and impulse control [later in life], some being more prone to alcohol abuse and addiction," Kowalchuk said in a Harris County Hospital District news release.

Drinking can have other health consequences for young people, she noted.

"Alcohol impairs good judgment and exposes teens and young adults to make irrational decisions like drinking and driving, riding with someone who's been drinking, engaging in unintended or unprotected sex, or committing criminal activities," said Kowalchuk, who is also an assistant professor in the family and community medicine department at Baylor College of Medicine, also in Houston.

Parents need to have forthright and consistent talks with their children early in life about the dangers of alcohol, she advised.

"If they hear anything that sounds middle of the road, they hear 'yes to drinking,'" Kowalchuk said. "Any ambiguity as a parent will be interpreted as an approval for drinking. The clear message needs to be that alcohol is not acceptable because it's not safe or good for your developing brain."

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has more about talking to children about alcohol.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Harris County Hospital District, news release, March 12, 2012

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