Imaging Reveals Changes in Brain Due to Binge Drinking

Alcohol dependence can influence a wide range of other areas of life. Those who struggle with alcohol consumption may face challenges in academic and professional achievement, as well as financial stability. Relationships with family and friends may be damaged by the effects of alcohol-related choices.

In addition, alcohol dependence can take a toll on everyday activities that people without alcohol dependence can easily complete. For example, cognitive processes may be impaired because of changes in the brain related to a history of binge drinking.

On a more broad scale alcohol dependence presents a significant cost to public health. In addition to needing medical and mental care, those with alcohol addiction may also need financial assistance to complete the treatment needed.

For all of these reasons, it is imperative that an increased risk for alcohol dependence in an individual be detected early. Intervention and treatment can lessen the impact of alcohol dependence from all aspects, from the challenges to daily tasks to the broad impact of alcohol dependence on public health costs.

Recently, Lin Xiao and colleagues in the Department of Psychology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles studied the brains of 14 teenagers with a history of binge drinking to determine how executive functioning is affected.

The researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to look at the neural scans of the participants. These results were compared with those from 14 additional teens who had never tried alcohol. The study focused on evaluating executive functioning because it is involved in several critical aspects of life, including addictive tendencies, reward urgency, decision making and academic ability.

The comparison showed a distinct difference between teens who had binge drinking in their history and those who had never tried alcohol. The binge-drinking teens showed increased neural activity in areas of the brain dedicated to perceiving the emotional state of others around them.

When there is increased activity in this area of the brain, individuals are more likely to misunderstand a social environment. This can lead to poor choices.

In addition teens that had a history of binge drinking experienced a stronger, more urgent reward response reaction when compared to those who do not drink.

The findings of the study lend support to the growing evidence that shows that even a short history of binge drinking may present social problems. In addition, there may be an increase of problems such as anger, substance dependency, and compulsion.

The findings present information that may be helpful in the future for identifying those at risk for developing alcohol dependence.

The study’s findings appear in a recent issue of the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.