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Binge Drinking Could Harm Brain and Turn a Social Drinker into an Abuser: Study

Update Date: Oct 16, 2012 09:00 AM EDT

A new study suggests that binge drinking, a trend more commonly practiced by youngsters these days could not only damage the brain within months, it could also turn social drinkers into alcohol abusers.

According to the researchers, the French way of having a small amount of alcohol every day is far safer than binge drinking.

For the study, the researchers exposed rats to alcohol for three days a week to understand how the brain adapts to drinking patterns. The findings revealed that in just six weeks, the 'binge-drinking' rats consumed much more alcohol than those who were given alcohol continuously.

Also, there was found to be signs of brain impairment in Binge drinking rats in a matter of a few months.

The researchers based on the findings claim a link between the rats' impairment to a small group of brain cells, or neurons, in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which normally act as a brake on emotional and impulsive behavior.

It seems, these neurons became unusually active between separate sessions of binge drinking, the more active they were, the more the rats drank alcohol in the next drinking session.

"It's like a lot of things in life that the brain perceives as good - if it loses access to it, you feel bad, you get into a negative emotional state, a little bit frustrated, and so you take more the next time you have access. We suspect that this very early adaptation of the brain to intermittent alcohol use helps drive the transition from ordinary social drinking to binge drinking and dependence," lead researcher Olivier George of The Scripps Research Institute in California was quoted as saying by Mail online.

According to Dr George, the tests were carried out during 'dry' intervals between drinking sessions. The binge-drinking rats scored poorly on memory test and also struggled with emotions, the findings revealed.

"We normally see such changes in the brains of humans or other animals that are highly dependent on alcohol - but here we found these changes in the rats after only a few months of intermittent alcohol use," he said.

On the other hand, such impairments weren't seen in the rats that drank every day.

"They just drink a bit like the French way, the equivalent of a couple of glasses of wine  every day, and they're fine," Dr George said. "They don't escalate."

The study further revealed that the problem with the binge-drinking rats seemed to go away in 2 weeks if they were kept away from alcohol. But it would come back if they drank again.

"One can see the vicious cycle here," Dr George said. "They drink to restore normal prefrontal function, but ultimately that leads to even greater impairment."

 "This process would be of particular concern in adolescents and young adults, in whom the prefrontal cortex isn't even fully developed," George Koob, of the research institute's Pearson Center for Alcoholism and Addiction Research, said according to the report.

The researchers are studying the over-production of a stress chemical in brain called CRF, which is released by alcohol-dependent rats and even humans during abstinence. The over production causes the person to become anxious and subsides only with drinking.

The study appears in the online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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