Washington: Binge drinking in teenage can physically alter brain structure and its effects can last a lifetime, even after drinking has stopped, a new study has warned.
Adolescent binge drinking can have lasting effects on brain pathways that are still developing, researchers said.
"Adverse effects of this physical damage can persist long after adolescent drinking ends. We found that the effects of alcohol are enduring," Heather N Richardson from the University of Massachusetts Amherst said.
"The brains of adolescent rats appear to be sensitive to episodic alcohol exposure. These early experiences with alcohol can physically alter brain structure, which may ultimately lead to impairments in brain function in adulthood," she added.
She and her colleagues believe their study is the first to show that voluntary alcohol drinking has these effects on the physical development of neural pathways in the prefrontal cortex, one of the last brain regions to mature.
In humans, early onset of alcohol use in young teenagers has been linked to memory problems, impulsivity and an increased risk of alcoholism in adulthood.
Because adolescence is a period when the prefrontal cortex matures, Richardson added, it is possible that alcohol exposure might alter the course of brain development.
Richardson and her colleagues at UMass Amherst and Louisiana State University used preclinical rodent models to explore how alcohol affects myelin in the prefrontal cortex.
They gave male rats in early adolescence, several bouts of access to sweetened alcohol or, in controls, the same amount of sweetened water daily for two weeks.
The researchers examined myelin at the end of the binge-drinking period and found that it was reduced in the prefrontal cortex of the binge drinking adolescent rats.
In second experiment, they examined myelin several months later after testing for adult drinking behaviours and found that adolescent alcohol drinking caused significant white matter loss and damage to myelin in the prefrontal cortex.
The duration and amount of alcohol exposure was much less in the adolescent drinking model compared to the adult dependence model. This shows that the adolescent brain may have heightened sensitivity to alcohol, researchers said.
In a final experiment, researchers found heavy adolescent alcohol drinking, but not sweetened water, predicted poor performance on a working memory task in adulthood.
The study was published in The Journal of Neuroscience.