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Binge drinking teens risk brain changes

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers found that binge drinking during the critical adolescent period of brain development can affect the frontal cortex, which could affect decision-making and linked behaviors in later life.

Adolescents represent the majority of people who binge drink (binge drinking is defined by having five or more drinks in a short time period for males, or four or more drinks for females). Human adolescence, roughly 12 to 20 years of age, marks a critical period for brain development. "It is also a time when the brain's developing neural circuits are more sensitive to disruption," said researcher Fulton Crews. 

Previous studies have shown that, given the same amount of alcohol the growing adolescent frontal cortex is much more sensitive to damage than the adult frontal cortex. The findings suggest that individuals who drink heavily during adolescence may be more likely to have deficits in being able to adapt successfully to changing life situations as adults, possibly tied to chemical and or structural changes in the frontal cortex."This is the part of the brain that allows us to predict consequences of our actions, control our impulses, refine our reasoning, and evaluate long- and short-term rewards," said Crews.

For more than a decade, Crews' research has explored the mechanisms, characteristics and functional consequences of binge drinking on the brain.

The study has been reported in the April issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Written by: Lisa Callaham
Posted September 21, 2011 by Lisa Callaham

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