Rat Study Finds Binge Drinking in Adolescence Affects Brain Function


Published in The Journal of Neuroscience, a new study finds that binge drinking in adolescence reduces prefrontal Myelin. The changes occur in the part of the brain that is important in decision making and reasoning. Binge drinking is defined as heavily consuming alcohol over a short period of time. For women, this is consuming four or more drinks, and men five or more drinks in a two hour period. Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst assessed the effects of alcohol consumption on the brains of male adolescent rats. See the article reported from Medical News Today below.


Past research has documented the effects of binge drinking on the brain – particularly during adolescence – when the brain is still developing. Studies have linked heavy alcohol use among teenagers to changes in myelin – the protective coating surrounding nerve fibers that boosts communication between neurons – and cognitive impairment later in life.

But according to study co-author Heather Richardson, PhD, of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, it has been unclear whether such brain changes are a direct result of alcohol consumption or other factors.

With a view to finding out, Richardson and colleagues assessed the effects of alcohol consumption on the brains of male adolescent rats.

teen drinking in adolescence

For 2 weeks, one group of rats had access to sweetened alcohol each day, while the other group – acting as controls – had access to sweetened water.

The researchers explain that – like teenagers – rats have a preference for sweet beverages and were happy to work for their drink by pressing a lever that granted access to it. This triggered high levels of voluntary alcohol consumption among the rats, similar to that of adolescent binge drinking in humans.

Adolescent binge drinking ’causes lasting myelin deficits in prefrontal cortex of brain’

At the end of the study period, the researchers analyzed the brains of the rats – particularly their levels of myelin.

They found that the rats that drank the sweetened alcohol every day for 2 weeks had reduced myelin in the prefrontal cortex of the brain – a region of the brain crucial for decision making and the regulation of emotions – compared with the rats that drank the sweetened water.

When assessing myelin levels in the rats’ brains months later – when they had reached adulthood – they found the rats that had consumed the sweetened alcohol during adolescence continued to show reduced myelin levels in the prefrontal cortex.

Read more here.

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