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Binge Drinking Damages Brain, Causes Memory Problems

Update Date: Oct 29, 2014 05:24 PM EDT

Binge drinking during adolescence can lead to undesirable changes in key brain portions and cause memory deficits in adulthood.

According to researchers from University of Massachusetts, heavy alcohol consumption during adolescence can lead to myelin depletion in the brain which in turn leads to cognitive and memory problems during adulthood. Their findings were based on studies conducted in mice.

"Our study provides novel data demonstrating that alcohol drinking early in adolescence causes lasting myelin deficits in the prefrontal cortex. 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," said researcher Heather Richardson in a press release.

To arrive at their conclusions the research team divided young male rats in two groups. To one group they gave sweetened water, and to the other sweetened alcohol for two weeks. They found that animals which consumed alcohol had reduced myelin levels in the prefrontal cortex. To test for persisting problems, researchers examined the mice group exposed to alcohol many months later, only to find continued low myelin levels in adulthood.

Then they assessed the rats' cognitive abilities to find that rats which consumed alcohol, had problems retaining information. The extent of the problem was proportional to amount of alcohol consumption in two weeks.

"This study suggests that exposure to high doses of alcohol during adolescence could exert lingering, if not permanent, damage to selective brain fibers. This damage might underlie persistent compromise of cognitive functions involved in learning and render youth vulnerable for later development of alcohol use disorders," said Edith Sullivan, a Stanford University researcher who was not involved with the study.

The research team called for further study to find if human brains faced similar consequences of heavy drinking during adolescence.

The findings of the study were published in The Journal of Neuroscience.

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