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Monday, 14 August, 2000, 23:13 GMT 00:13 UK
Binge drinking 'can damage brain'
Teenagers
More young people are drinking than ever before
Young people who binge drink could be risking serious damage to their brains, according to US research.

A study carried out by doctors in North Carolina suggests that adolescent brains may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of alcohol.

They report that binge drinking during adolescence could damage memory in the long term.

Figures from the Institute of Alcohol Studies in the UK show that more young people are drinking than ever before. They are also drinking more.

Last week, Conservative Party leader William Hague confessed to going on drink binges.

He claimed to have drunk 14 pints in just one day when he was a teenager.


Early chronic drinking may have long-lasting consequences

Dr David McKinzie, Indiana University

The authors of the study tested their theory on rodents. They compared the effects of binge drinking on younger and older rats.

The rats were given doses of alcohol which, according to the researchers, were "comparable to multiple instances of binge drinking" in humans.

The rats were tested for anxiety and learning problems. None showed any immediate effects.

However, when they later received a moderate dose of alcohol, this was found to have a disruptive effect on the working memory of the younger rats.

The authors of the study said the experiment suggested that binge drinking during adolescence leads the brain to respond more sensitively to alcohol in the future.

Vulnerable

Dr Aaron White, from the Duke University Medical in North Carolina and one of the authors, said: "We believe that the adolescent brain is more vulnerable to the neurotoxic effects of alcohol than the adult brain."

He said alcohol was found to impair activity in the brain receptors responsible for memory and learning.

Dr David McKinzie, assistant professor at the Indiana University School of Medicine, said the findings were a cause for concern.

"The implications of this study are that teenagers who drink heavily and often may be susceptible to the neurobehavioural effects of alcohol than would adults with similar drinking experiences.

"Of special concern is the possibility that the effects of early chronic drinking may have long-lasting consequences."

Dr White warned against generalising from a small sample of rats to the entire population. However, he said the findings were consistent with other similar studies.

Dr McKinzie added: "The few animal studies to date have consistently suggested that developing brains are especially sensitive to the toxic effects of alcohol."

He suggested if further studies backed up the findings, there may be a case for campaigns to stop young people drinking.

"If this age group is indeed found to be especially vulnerable to alcohol and its long-term effects, as this study suggests, we may need to concentrate our efforts on preventative strategies."

The study is published in the latest issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

See also:

08 Aug 00 | Politics
12 May 00 | Health
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