Study shows young binge drinkers have altered brain activity

Excessive alcohol use, in the form of binge drinking, is extremely common among college students -- as many as one-third of young people binge drink.
By Amy Wallace  |  Sept. 14, 2017 at 10:31 AM
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Sept. 14 (UPI) -- Researchers have found distinctive changes in the brain activity of college students who binge drink alcohol compared to those who do not.

Binge drinking -- consuming five or more drinks for men or four or more for women within a two-hour period -- is extremely common among college students, and as many as one-third of young people binge drink.

The study, published today in Frontiers of Behavioral Neuroscience, asked first year college students from a university in Spain to complete a questionnaire about drinking habits.

Researchers classified students as binge drinkers if they had at least one binge within the previous month and non-binge drinkers as those who never binged before.

The team then attached electrodes to the students' scalps to assess electrical activity in various brain regions. The study showed that, compared with non-bingers, the binge drinkers had altered brain activity at rest and showed significantly higher measurements of specific electrophysiological parameters known as beta and theta oscillations in the right temporal lobe and bilateral occipital cortex of the brain.

The changes point to a decreased ability to respond to external stimuli and potential difficulties in information processing capacity in young binge drinkers possibly showing the first signs of alcohol-induced brain damage.

Previous studies showed similar results in the brains of adult chronic alcoholics.

"These features might be down to the particularly harmful effects of alcohol on young brains that are still in development, perhaps by delaying neuromaturational processes," Eduardo López-Caneda, of the University of Minho in Portugal, said in a press release.

"It would be a positive outcome if educational and health institutions used these results to try to reduce alcohol consumption in risky drinkers."

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