Rodent of the Week: A message from mice to teens about binge drinking

Drinking at a young age is simply bad for the brain, according to a growing number of studies. The latest study looks at the relationship between alcohol and the brain in mice. And the results are not pretty.

Researchers gave mice alcohol daily for 10 days and later examined their brains with MRI. The mice who were drinkers in youth had smaller forebrain volume and size as adults. The study also found reduced activity in some genes that govern brain chemicals called neurotransmitters 24 hours after an alcohol binge in adolescent mice. Binges in adult mice found even greater reductions.

The adolescent brain is at a crucial stage of development, said the authors of the study, published in the April issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. But it may also be more vulnerable to disruption. The brain changes caused by alcohol use may be subtle, but they carry important consequences over time, said the lead author of the study, Fulton Crews, director of the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies at the University of North Carolina.

While teens and young adults are often cautioned that alcohol use can lead to accidents, fights and more grades, the long-term effects that alter characteristics such as intelligence and mood are overlooked, he said. Recent surveys show that 28% of 12th-grade students said they had binged in the previous two weeks while 44% of college students said they had binged recently.

"Our findings suggest that human 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," he said in a news release. "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."

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