Binge drinking is more common among students

Anne Lima

Young adults are known to experiment with all sorts of things: drugs, sex,and alcohol.  However currently kids are abusing alcohol at earlier ages than ever before, according to recent studies.

“It’s important for young people to know that when they drink heavily during this period of development, there could be changes occurring that have a lasting impact on memory and other cognitive functions,” Mary-Louise Risher, a post-doctoral researcher in the Duke Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences said in a Los Angeles Times article, “Youthful binge drinking changes the brain for the worse into adulthood,” published April 27.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, to 0.08 grams per deciliter or above.

According to a 2005 study by the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, about 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by youth under the age of 21 in the United States is in the form of binge drinks.

“In the eyes of the law, once people reach the age of 18, they are considered adults, but the brain continues to mature and refine all the way into the mid-20s,” Risher said.

A recent study, led by Risher, conducted on rats published in the journal, Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, showed that as an adult, the brain exposed to periodic alcoholic benders during adolescence and young adulthood shows persistent abnormalities in the structure and function of the hippocampus, the region closely associated with learning and memory. Most of the physical changes in brain cells appear to make them more than usually vulnerable to injury from trauma or disease.

Among other things binge drinking is associated with alcohol poisoning, injuries, suicide, sexually transmitted diseases, meningitis and among others. Especially, young adults drinking excessively are more prone to car accidents, violent behavior, alcohol poisoning and other health problems.

“In the eyes of the law, once people reach the age of 18, they are considered adults, but the brain continues to mature and refine all the way into the mid-20s.”

— Mary-Louise Risher

The new research suggests that the still developing brain of a young adult is sensitive to the levels of alcohol that are consistent with binge drinking. Parents may try to reinforce their knowledge and own personal experience on underage drinking, however they will often find their words fall on deaf ears. But the new research shows solid scientific information to urge young adults from high-school to college not to abuse alcohol.

It’s not only the fact that young people are drinking but the way they drink that puts them at such high risk. Many teenagers drink heavily to escape problems or to cope with frustration or anger, such as family problems or peer pressure.

Although there are young adults who drink responsibly or abstain altogether, binge drinking is still a common problem among them. While teens as young as age 13 admit to this, it becomes more popular in mid-adolescence and exceeds during college. College students between the ages of 18 and 22 are more likely to report binge drinking than non-students of the same age. Recent news reports of deaths from alcohol poisoning on college campuses have spotlighted the dangers of binge drinking.

“It’s quite possible that alcohol disrupts the maturation process, which can affect these cognitive function later on,” Risher said.