Tim McQueeny, a doctoral student in the University of Cincinnati, used high-resolution brain scans on a sample of 29 weekend binge drinkers -- four or more drinks at one sitting for females and five or more drinks for males -- ages 18-25.
The study, presented at the 34th annual meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism in Atlanta, found that binge-drinking was linked to cortical-thinning of the pre-frontal cortex, the section of the brain related to executive functioning such as paying attention, planning and making decisions, processing emotions and controlling impulses leading to irrational behavior.
"Alcohol might be neurotoxic to the neuron cells, or, since the brain is developing in one's 20s, it could be interacting with developmental factors and possibly altering the ways in which the brain is still growing," McQueeny said in a statement.
Forty-two percent of Americans ages 18-25 say they engaged in binge drinking, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported.
McQueeny said the depressant effects of alcohol emerge later in life, so for young adults, the effect of alcohol can be very stimulating and activate tolerance over time.