Too Young And Too Much June 19, 2010Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Alcohol and Illegal Drugs, Brain Power, Human Body, Nutrition and Health, Think About It.
Tags: alcohol, binge drinking, brain, teens
One drink. Two drinks. Three drinks….seven drinks. Does this sound like you each weekend? It isn’t news that teens can be binge drinkers. Even the wicked hangover the next day isn’t necessarily enough to stop teens – or adults – from going wild on booze. But a new study suggests that binge drinking has some effects on teens that we won’t necessarily see in adults. To understand what researchers discovered, we have to delve into the brain. The monkey brain, that is.
Lasting Brain Damage
To find out what binge drinking does to the brain, a group of researchers led by Chitra Mandyam of the Scripps Research Institute in California looked at how the drinking affected normal nerve cell development in the hippocampus, a part of the brain responsible for long-term memory. They used monkeys, an animal with brain development that is very similar to humans. Their work was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Researchers gave four adolescent monkeys alcoholic drinks for an hour each day over nearly a year. A couple of months later, the animals were put down so that researchers could compare their brains to monkeys that had not been given alcohol. So, what did they learn?
The binge drinking monkeys had 50 to 90 percent fewer stem cells in their hippocampus compared to the other monkeys. This could leave monkeys struggling with memory and spatial skills, plus loads of other important functions in the brain.
You’re Not Alone
Just how common is binge drinking? In a European study last year, Britain came in as one of the worst offenders. More than half of teens had been binge drinking in the last month. For the United States, around 11 million teens drink and approximately 7 million are binge drinkers. According to MADD, Canadian statistics are very similar.
Binge drinking is harmful at any age and can hurt adults too. But this study suggests that its effects in teens can be especially dangerous because of teens’ brains being quite vulnerable during these years. Fortunately, there are ways to get confidential help, whether it’s through a doctor, substance abuse centre or even a counsellor at school. If you feel like your drinking is a problem or you’re worried about someone you know, talk to a trusted adult.