Heavy drinking in teen years has lasting effects
Heavy drinking during the teen years may lead to lasting brain changes and memory loss, according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that rats given daily access to alcohol during adolescence had reduced levels of myelin, the protective coating on nerves that accelerates the transmission of electrical signals between neurons. The changes were found in the region of the brain important in reasoning and decision-making, and continued as the rats moved into adulthood.
For the study, researchers split young male rats into two groups: one that received sweetened water and another that received sweetened alcohol. The rats that consumed alcohol showed reduced myelin levels in the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that’s linked to complex cognitive behaviors, personality and memory. Researchers also examined the rats’ decision-making abilities, and found a deficit proportional to the amount of alcohol consumed.
“Our study provides novel data demonstrating that alcohol drinking early in adolescence causes lasting myelin deficits in the prefrontal cortex,” said lead researcher Heather Richardson in a news release. “These findings suggest that alcohol may negatively affect brain development in humans and have long-term consequences on areas of the brain that are important for controlling impulses and making decisions.”
Richardson’s findings were published in The Journal of Neuroscience.
The brain undergoes dramatic changes during adolescence, and drinking during that time can impact both short-and long-term growth, says Dr. Charles Nozicka, medical director of pediatric emergency medicine at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill.
“Adolescent drinkers perform worse in school and have a higher risk of social problems, depression, suicidal thoughts and violence,” Nozicka says. “Binge drinking not only increases the risk of fatal car accidents, risky sexual behavior and acute alcohol poisoning, but it also can have long-term, and possibly permanent, effects on the teenage brain.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, excessive alcohol accounts for one in 10 deaths among adults age 20 to 64.
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