Young adults do not consider the long-term effects of binge-drinking. But a new study reveals that this type of alcohol consumption could lead to impaired cognitive functioning. A study involving 29 binge-drinkers, ranging in age 18-25, examined the brain scans of the drinkers to determine what effect this behavior had. The research revealed that binging, consuming more than five drinks for males or more than four for females, caused cortical thinning in the pre-frontal cortex. Because this region of the brain is related to several executive functions, such as planning, processing emotions, impulse control and attention, the implications are significant. The study, the first of its kind to examine this relationship, showed a clear link between gray matter and binge drinking. Researchers still hope to pursue how this affects the brain’s white matter. Tim McQueeny, doctoral student at the University of Cincinnati’s Department of Psychology, and researcher on the study, says, “Alcohol might be neurotoxic to the neuron cells, or, since the brain is developing in one’s 20’s, it could be interacting with developmental factors and possibly altering the ways in which the brain is still growing.”
Statistics show that over 40 percent of young people have participated in binge drinking at one time or another, but it’s the future ramifications of this behavior that concern McQueeny. “In the past, in terms of what’s known about the physical toll of alcohol, the focus on neurobiology has been in pathological populations and adult populations who were disproportionately male, so there was a significant gap in research in terms of when people started risky drinking. We’re looking at developmental aspects at an age when binge drinking rates are highest, and we’re also looking at gender effects,” says McQueeny. “There might actually be indications of early micro-structural damage without the onset of pathological symptoms such as abuse, or dependence on alcohol.”
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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