Alcohol May Lead to Structural Changes in the Brain

brainScientists are making groundbreaking discoveries concerning the brain and the effects that alcohol has on our most crucial organ. While much of the effects of alcohol on the brain’s inner-workings remain unknown, especially on developing brains, researchers continue to glean new understanding through research with animals. A new study has found that drinking alcohol during one’s teenage years may lead to structural changes in the brain that could last into adulthood, affecting regions of the brain important in reasoning and decision-making, Medical News Today reports.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst conducted the study using two groups of male adolescent rats as test subjects. The group that received alcohol was found to have less myelin in the prefrontal cortex of their brains. Myelin is the fatty coating on nerve fibers that speeds the transmission of electrical signals between nerve cells.

When the rats that consumed alcohol reached adulthood, their brains continued to show reduced levels of myelin. Those that drank the most alcohol showed poor results when given memory tests, according to the study. The researchers point out that more research is needed to be sure all the findings apply to the human brain.

While previous studies have linked changes in myelin levels and cognitive impairment later in life to teenage binge drinking, until now, it was unclear if alcohol was the cause, according to study co-author, Heather Richardson, PhD. Binge drinking during adolescence could continue to affect the brain even long after the drinking stops.

“These findings suggest that alcohol may negatively affect brain development in humans and have long-term consequences on areas of the brain that are important for controlling impulses and making decisions,” Richardson noted in a news release.

Research on how much binge drinking affects the brain is extremely important, considering that around 90% of alcohol consumed by minors is in the form of binge drinking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The findings are published in The Journal of Neuroscience.