How Does Binge Drinking Affect the Brain?

The Recovery VillageAddiction

Mugs of beer

Enjoying a night out with friends and having a few drinks might not be so bad, but regularly binge drinking can have detrimental effects on the brain.

In fact, research suggests that young people who binge drink could increase their risk of experiencing memory loss later on in life. And the younger the person who drinks, the higher the risk of more serious brain damage from excessive drinking compared with older drinkers.

A study conducted by researchers at Duke University assessed frequent binge consumption of alcohol in rats to see how the impact of binge drinking differs between younger versus older rodents. The adolescent rats were fed alcohol in a binge pattern similar to those in which college drinkers participate, where the rats consumed heavy amounts of alcohol in one day. The next day, they did not consume alcohol. This pattern was repeated over a 20-day time frame.

Following a break, the rats were tested for motor and memory skills. The researchers discovered that the adolescent rats that consumed excessive alcohol similar to humans that binge drink showed more signs of memory loss than did the older rats and the rats that did not consume alcohol at all.

How Excessive Alcohol Consumption Affects the Brain

Heavy drinking in adolescence can cause genetic and structural damage to the neurons of the brain. More specifically, it is the hippocampus of the brain, which is associated with memory and learning, that is particularly affected by alcohol consumption.

The adult rats of the study that were exposed to alcohol as adolescents displayed fewer dendritic spines, which come from neurons to receive information in the brain. Without an adequate number of these dendritic spines, the ability of a brain cell to process information becomes compromised, which can then have a ripple effect on other cells.

The findings of the study associate the potential for binge drinking, particularly in younger people, with impaired memory later in life. What is particularly alarming is the potential for such effects to be long-lasting and possibly permanent.

Intoxicated young couple

Why is binge drinking a dangerous practice, particularly for young people?

Is There a Silver Lining to These Findings?

As troubling as these findings may be, there is hope that such damage can be reversed with the right intervention and treatment. More specifically, the negative impact of binge drinking appeared to have reversed when the drug donepezil was given to the rats. Donepezil is a cognitive-enhancing medication used to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

Treatment centers that use this drug, which has been shown to be safe when administered appropriately, can help people who may experience an alcohol use disorder to potentially reverse the damage that may have been caused by excessive alcohol consumption. Although this study was conducted on rats and not on humans, the findings still suggest that drugs like donepezil could be a viable treatment for helping those with an addiction to alcohol.

Where Can People With Alcohol Use Disorder Get Help?

Excessive alcohol consumption can have a dire impact on the brain, particularly that of a teen. But as harmful as drinking too much alcohol can be, there is a way out.

If you are addicted to alcohol, there are Ohio addiction treatment resources available to help. Contact The Recovery Village Columbus today to learn about treatment options and how to be admitted to one of our treatment programs.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village Columbus aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.