Binge drinking: a dangerous rite of passage

  • Adolescence is a time when many begin experimenting with alcohol.
  • Some adolescents binge drink, that is, drink heavily during a short period of time.
  • Adolescent brains may be particularly vulnerable to the neurotoxic effects of alcohol.
  • Binge drinking during adolescence may have long-term disruptive consequences for memory.

Adolescence is often a time of fashion consciousness, learning how to drive a car, and exploring the limits of parental patience and endurance. Adolescence is also a time when most people begin drinking, often drink the most, and for some, experiment with binge drinking. A study in the August issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research (ACER) explores the long-term neurobehavioral consequences of binge drinking during adolescence.

Binge drinking can be loosely defined as an intense bout of drinking during a single session, such as a single evening. For males, that can mean five or more drinks in one sitting; for females, it can be four or more drinks. Several studies have found that a significant percentage of teenagers report regular bouts of drinking in which high blood alcohol levels are attained. Furthermore, when the above definitions are used, recent data from the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study indicates that roughly 45 percent of all college students binge drink. According to Aaron M. White, research associate in the department of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center and first author of the ACER study, roughly 23 percent of all college students are frequent binge drinkers, meaning that they binge three or more times in a two-week period.

White and his co-authors used rodents to test for the effects of binge-pattern drinking. "We were particularly interested in knowing whether these treatments produced different effects in younger rats than in older rats," he said.

After a regimen essentially comparable to multiple instances of binge drink

Contact: Aaron M. White, Ph.D.
Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research

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