Teens who binge drink may be permanently damaging their short term memory. A new study of how alcohol affects the brains of young monkeys may shed light on how teen alcoholics risk long-term cognitive impairment.
According to a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:
Chitra Mandyam and colleagues provided four adolescent rhesus macaque monkeys with a citrus-flavored alcoholic drink for an hour a day over 11 months, and examined the monkeys' brains two months after alcohol access was discontinued. Blood alcohol tests indicated that the monkeys drank to intoxication, a behavior commonly associated with binge drinking in humans. The researchers found decreased production of neural stem cells and increased neural degeneration in the hippocampus of the binge-drinking monkeys, compared to the brains of three control monkeys that were provided daily access to the citrus drink without alcohol. According to the author the study suggests that binge drinking and alcoholism may cause destructive and potentially long-lasting effects in the hippocampus of human adolescents.
Or, as Mandyam and colleagues explain, "Adolescence is a period of high vulnerability to brain insults." If human brains respond to binge drinking the way monkey brains do, teen binge drinkers may be altering their brains in ways that make them more impulsive, as well as making it more difficult for them to learn and remember things.