WASHINGTON — Binge drinking can really mess up a teenage brain. Now, there’s evidence the damage can be long lasting.
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine say binging can result in genetic changes that slow brain development at a critical time.
They tested their theory on adolescent rats by feeding them alcohol for two days in a row, followed by two days off and repeating the pattern for 13 days.
The lab animals exposed to the alcohol displayed changes in behavior that lasted into adulthood, including increased anxiety and a higher risk of alcoholism.
When the researchers tested tissue from their brains, they found so-called “epigenetic” changes, or chemical modifications of either the DNA or related proteins. These changes have the ability to delay brain development and maturation.
The researchers say binge drinking degrades the brain’s ability to form needed connections during adolescence.
In a related experiment, adult rats exposed to alcohol during adolescence responded well to a cancer drug that apparently undid some of the genetic damage.
These findings were published in the Neurobiology of Disease journal.