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Too Young And Too Much June 19, 2010

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Alcohol and Illegal Drugs, Brain Power, Human Body, Nutrition and Health, Think About It.
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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.

Binge drinkers consume lots of alcohol in a short period of time with the aim of getting drunk. Does this sound like you or someone you know?

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.

Getting Support

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.

Comments»

1. Mr.Science - June 21, 2010

Very interesting and very true. Did you know Scientists at Schepens Eye Research Institute have identified specific molecules in the brain that are responsible for awakening and putting to sleep brain stem cells, which, when activated, can transform into neurons (nerve cells) and repair damaged brain tissue. Their findings were recently published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).

2. Miss Weird Scientist - June 21, 2010

Thanks for the heads up on the study. It’s definitely good to know that researchers are looking at ways to treat damage.

Of course, where we can prevent the damage from happening in the first place – as in the case of binge drinking – that’s even better!

3. Mr.Science - June 21, 2010

Well thats true to but sadly I think that giving up binge drinking with underage teens is going to be harder for them to resist then it will be for us to find ways to overcome the damage.

4. Miss Weird Scientist - June 21, 2010

Hard indeed! I still remain optimistic although how realistic my optimism is would be up for debate. ;)

5. Mr.Science - June 21, 2010

Ha Ha Ha h a Ha Same here


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