It's considered a rite of passage among young people acting out their independence through heavy, episodic drinking. But a new University of Cincinnati study, the first of its kind nationally, is showing how binge drinking among adolescents and young adults could be causing serious damage to a brain that's still under development at this age.
Researcher Tim McQueeny, a doctoral student in the UC Department of Psychology, is presenting the findings this week at the 34th annual meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism in Atlanta.
High-resolution brain scans on a sample of 29 weekend binge drinkers, aged 18 to 25, found that binge-drinking consuming four or more drinks in one incident for females and five or more drinks for males was linked to cortical-thinning of the pre-frontal cortex, the section of the brain related to executive functioning such as paying attention, planning and making decisions, processing emotions and controlling impulses leading to irrational behavior.
McQueeny examined the brain's gray matter, the parts of brain cells that do the thinking, receiving and transmitting of messages. "We have seen evidence that binge drinking is associated with reduced integrity in the white matter, the brain's highways that communicate neuron messaging, but alcohol may affect the gray matter differently than the white matter," he says.
The pilot study examined whether the researchers could see a relationship between gray matter thickness and binge drinking among college-aged young adults. They found that greater number of drinks per binge is associated with cortical thinning. McQueeny is now interested in pursuing future research to examine whether binge drinking is affecting the brain's gray matter and white matter differently, or if they're both equally affected.
"Alcohol might be neurotoxic to the neuron cells, or, since the brain is developing in one's 20s, it could be interacting with developmental fac
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University of Cincinnati