Binge drinking has 'dire' effects on the teenage brain 6 years ago

Binge drinking has 'dire' effects on the teenage brain

As Leo Varadkar launches a new national strategy on alcohol use, neuroscientists warn binge drinking has a 'dire' effect on adolescent brains.

alcohol teenagers binge drinking Ireland

In 2014, Ireland was the seventh highest European country for alcohol consumption aged 15 years and over at 11.0 litres per person. The grim statistics showed no signs of abating last year, with 2016 figures showing an increase to 11.5 litres per person in the same age group.

Alcohol is a well-engrained and long-standing social habit in this country, despite the fact that the drug has a significant impact on health, particularly when it comes to binge drinking.

Dr Anita Cservenka, an assistant professor at Oregon State University, has published a new review looking at the effects of heavy drinking on young people's brains. She explains that binge or 'heavy episodic drinking' means four or more standard drinks within a two-hour drinking session for females, and five or more drinks for males:

"Adolescence is a time when the brain still matures including not only in terms of biological development but also maturation of psychosocial behaviours. Given the increase of binge and heavy drinking in young people, understanding the effects of consuming large quantities of alcohol on neural development and the impact on cognitive skills is very important."

alcohol teenagers binge drinking Ireland

Worryingly, Dr Cservenka's review establishes that binge drinking among young people is associated with a thinning or reduction of areas of the brain that play a key role in memory, attention, language, awareness and consciousness. The professor says that when taking learning and memory as an example, studies have shown that heavy drinking leads to a deficit in the ability of young people to learn new words, which has been linked to changes in brain activity:


"We looked at six areas to determine the deleterious impact of heavy drinking on brain response, namely response inhibition, working memory, verbal learning and memory, decision making and reward processing, alcohol cue reactivity, and socio-cognitive or socio-emotional processing."

Cservenka says it is important to continue raising awareness of the risks of binge drinking and to promote future research in the area:

"These brain alterations, as a result of heavy alcohol use during adolescence and young adulthood, could result in increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder later on in life."

alcohol teenagers binge drinking Ireland

This week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar launched the State’s new national strategy on drug and alcohol use, and said he was determined the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill would become law by the end of this year.

Commenting on the Bill, which proposes to place restrictions on the sale of alcohol, Mr Varadkar said Ireland is a country with a significant alcohol problem:

"We need to face up to that as a society. The solution is not prohibition. The solution is denormalisation - making sure that alcohol is no longer treated as a normal grocery or something that you buy in a shop as if it were like buying fruit or buying a pizza."