Girls appear to be especially vulnerable to the effects of binge drinking on the brain, a new study suggests. The study found that binge drinking can affect teens’ ability to perceive the space around them, and then remember and work with this information, known as spatial working memory.
“Even though adolescents might physically appear grown up, their brains are continuing to significantly develop and mature, particularly in frontal brain regions that are associated with higher-level thoughts, like planning and organization,” lead researcher Susan F. Tapert of the VA San Diego Healthcare System, said in a news release. She explained that heavy alcohol use could interrupt normal brain cell growth during the teenage years, especially in the frontal brain regions. This interruption could interfere with teens’ ability to perform in school and sports, and could have long-term effects.
HealthDay reports that the researchers studied 95 teens, asking them about their substance use, and testing their spatial working memory during a brain scan. They found that teen girls who were binge drinkers had less activation in several brain areas than non-drinking girls when doing the same spatial task. In boy binge drinkers, there was also less activation in those brain areas compared with nondrinking boys, but the difference was less compared with the girls.
“These findings remind us that adolescent boys and girls are biologically different and represent distinctive groups that require separate and parallel study,” another study co-author, Edith V. Sullivan, said in the news release. The researchers noted that hormonal or metabolic differences between girls and boys, or earlier brain development among girls, could account for the difference.
The study appears in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
Another recent study that scanned the brains of binge drinkers ages 18 to 25 shows that regularly having many drinks in one sitting can affect an area of the brain related to paying attention, making decisions and controlling impulses.