Study Finds Binge Drinking in Teens Damages White Matter in Brain

teens_drinkingBinge drinking continues to be popular among teenagers. Drinking games promote drinking alcoholic drinks in rapid succession, and “tasty” delivery systems such as Jell-O shots often disguise just how much teens are drinking. While the glamour and celebrity associated with this activity may make it seem like a fun thing to do, the health risks may be more serious than once assumed.

Forbes recently featured a piece that suggested that teen binge drinking may be doing serious damage to the sensitive white matter in the brain. This MRI-based study found that damage caused to white matter, which is the part of the brain involved in relaying information between brain cells, could interfere with a teen’s brain development.

Damage to white matter could result in a negative impact on thinking and memory, which could lower school performance. White matter impairment was found to be significant in teens with histories of binge drinking.

According to Susan F. Tapert, lead researcher and an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, the cause of the damage is not fully understood. Yet because heavy drinking among adolescents continues to be a major problem, it is critical that researchers understand the destructive nature of binge drinking.

In her research, Tapert has found that about 55 percent of high school seniors report having been drunk and 25 percent report that they have had five or more drinks on at least one day over the previous two weeks. This means a quarter of high school students are potentially being at risk of what is essentially brain damage.

In studies that did not involve MRI scans, teens with a history of binge drinking retrieved 10 percent less information as compared to teens who were not binge drinkers. Tapert also told Forbes: “We have also seen that if you start drinking heavily in adolescence, you are more likely to go downhill on other measures of thinking and information processing.”

Such studies could be used in arguing against lowering the drinking age. However, the sad truth is that such damage is already occurring despite the legal drinking age being 21. It is apparent that the law alone does not offer enough incentive to prevent abusive drinking among teens and other strategies must be considered.

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