College binge drinking found to alter brain activity

New research has found that binge drinking in college students has caused distinctive changes in brain activity.

It has been estimated that up to one-third of young North Americans and Europeans partake in binge drinking, particularly during their college years.

Binge drinking, as described by The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, occurs when 4 to 5 drinks are consumed in a two-hour period.

Both binge drinking and alcoholism have been scientifically proven to affect brain activity. But for college students specifically, binge drinking has been linked to poor performance in school, neurocognitive deficits, and risky sexual behavior, not to mention the risks involved with alcohol poisoning and drunk driving  

Researchers in Spain and Portugal set out determine if binge drinking had any impact on the brain activity of college students while at rest.

“A number of studies have assessed the effects of binge drinking in young adults during different tasks involving cognitive processes such as attention or working memory. However, there are hardly any studies assessing if the brains of binge drinkers show differences when they are at rest, and not focused on a task, “ said Eduardo López-Caneda from the University of Minho in Portugal and one of the researchers.

Researchers asked first-year college students to take a survey about their drinking habits. If the student had partaken in binge drinking in the last month. The researchers then attached electrodes to the students and observed electrical activity in the different parts of the brain while at rest.

The results showed different brain activity in the students labeled as binge drinkers. These students had higher measurements of beta and theta oscillations in the right temporal lobe and bilateral occipital cortex. These results are similar to the brain activity of chronic alcoholics.

Because adolescent brains are still developing, it is especially dangerous that young binge drinkers display brain activity similar to the damage done to older adult alcoholic brains.

Lopez-Caneda stresses the importance of future studies factoring in this research to see just how much brain activity can be affected by binge drinking at a young age.

The study was published in the journal, Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.

By Kay Vandette, Earth.com Staff Writer