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Drinking Makes You Dumber?

A new study shows that binge drinking may have far more significant effects than merely a bad hangover the next day.

Researchers from the University of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain, reported that binge drinking can affect the brain in similar ways that are seen in chronic alcohol abusers.

Binge drinking is defined in men who consume five or more alcoholic drinks in about two hours and in women who drink four or more drinks.

The study compared 42 binge drinkers and 53 students who did not binge or drink alcohol regularly. The results found binge drinkers performed considerably worse on a series of tests that measured attention and memory skills, and they also had trouble distinguishing between relevant and irrelevant information.

Dr. Robert Handa, a professor in the Basic Medical Sciences department for The University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix in partnership with Arizona State University, says large consumptions of alcohol can cause a number of changes to the brain.

“Alcohol basically kills neurons over a prolonged period of time,” Handa said

Certain brain areas can decrease in size when neurons are destroyed. Most notably, the hippocampus, which is responsible for long term memory, and the pre-frontal cortex, which is important for attention, planning and higher cognitive functions can be damaged by alcohol, Handa said.

Teens and college students are particularly susceptible to damaging these parts of the brain with excessive alcohol use, Handa said.

“The prefrontal cortex doesn’t really completely develop until the early twenties. As a result, you are still setting up these connections during this whole period of time,” Handa said.

“This is scary because that seems to be the point when a lot of people binge drink,” Handa said.

In studies analyzing chronic alcohol abusers, Handa said subjects would perform better to a degree if they stopped drinking, but probably not to the same level that they once were functioning.

“It is kind of hard to say since you don’t know where people were to begin with,” Handa said.

While it’s clear that alcohol can cause brain damage, researchers are still trying to understand why.
Handa said there are several current hypotheses that attempt to explain alcohol’s effects on the brain, but ultimately, researchers still do not fully understand it.

source: College Times

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