The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as ‘a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above.’ It is the common form of alcohol abuse in the United States today. Although drinking is on the decline in teens today, underage binge drinking is still a huge problem. In fact, 90% of the alcohol consumed by teens is done on a binge.
Binge drinking is extremely dangerous! Even though their bodies are becoming more grown-up, their brains are still developing. Binge drinking can damage their spatial working memory (ability to understand what is going on around them), and girls are even more vulnerable to negative side effects, according to researchers.
“Even though adolescents might physically appear grown up, their brains are continuing to significantly develop and mature, particularly in frontal brain regions that are associated with higher-level thoughts, like planning and organization,” Susan F. Tapert, acting chief of psychology at the VA San Diego Healthcare System, said in a university news release.
“Heavy alcohol use could interrupt normal brain cell growth during adolescence, particularly in these frontal brain regions, which could interfere with teens’ ability to perform in school and sports, and could have long-lasting effects, even months after the teen uses,” said Tapert in a study is published online July 15 ahead of print in the October issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. Tapert is also a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego.
According to the news release, impairments in spatial working memory from binge drinking can cause problems with the following:
- Figural reasoning, such as geometry
- Sports, specifically remembering and enacting complex plays
- Reading maps
- Remembering directions or routes
Researchers took 95 teenagers through neuropsychological testing and brain scans using functional MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imagery). They also conducted substance abuse interviews on the teens. They found girls who were heavy drinkers had less brain activity in several areas of the brain than other girls their age who did not drink. Boys who participated in binge drinking, although showed abnormalities when compared to their non-drinking peers, displayed less deterioration than girls.
The difference between boys and girls damage to their brains could be due to hormonal difference, or the fact that a girl’s brain developed earlier than boys. “These findings remind us that adolescent boys and girls are biologically different and represent distinctive groups that require separate and parallel study,” Edith V. Sullivan, a professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine, said in the news release.
Teen binge drinking can easily result in alcohol poisoning. The body is only able to eliminate alcohol from the system so fast, so when it is consumed quickly the body doesn’t have time to get rid of it. Alcohol poisoning can result in death.
“Long after a young person — middle school to college — enjoys acute recovery from a hang-over, this study shows that risk to cognitive and brain functions endures. The effects on the developing brain are only now being identified. Why tamper with normal developmental trajectories that will likely set the stage for cognitive and motor abilities for the rest of one’s life?'” says Sullivan.
WebMD — Binge Drinking May Affect Memory of Teens, By Jennifer Warner: http://teens.webmd.com/news/20110715/binge-drinking-may-affect-memory-of-teens
Learn About Alcoholism.com — Teenage Binge Drinking: http://www.learn-about-alcoholism.com/teenage-binge-drinking.html
Health Day — Binge Drinking May Impair Teen Brain Development: http://consumer.healthday.com/Article.asp?AID=654746