Parents, take note: If your teenage child is drinking alcohol, it may impair his/her working memory, a new study suggested. The findings, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, also suggested that teenagers who binge drink are 15 times more likely to become alcoholics during adulthood.
"The brains of young teens are at a stage of development that makes them more vulnerable to being switched on to alcohol addiction," said co-author Neil Harrison, Professor at the Columbia University in New York.
"The question we are asking is, can we find those switches in the adolescent binge drinker so that we can turn it off?" Harrison added.
Earlier, other researchers have looked at the neuroscience of binge drinking by getting mice intoxicated through vapour inhalation or alcohol injection. But for this study the researchers allowed the mice to drink voluntarily.
In this approach, mice were given access to alcohol every other day during a period in their development that's equivalent to human adolescence.
The researchers found that consequences of binge drinking in adolescent mice were also similar to the effects in humans and as they become young adults, those that drank heavily in their youth adopted drinking patterns often seen in people, the researchers said.
The most striking changes that the researchers saw appeared in neurons within the mouse equivalent of the human prefrontal cortex (PFC), which is involved in planning actions by suppressing inappropriate responses and maintaining working memory (which governs very short-term memory) and attention.
In the binge-drinking mice, certain PFC neurons were less able to generate persistent activity, and these changes appear to impair working memory, the researchers mentioned.
"These findings may help explain why human adolescent binge drinkers have memory problems," noted the lead author Michael Salling from the Columbia University.