As warm Gulf Coast air streams to the north, college students flock to sandy beaches renowned for wild behavior and free-flowing alcohol. But recent research has shown that these Spring Break binges are actually causing brain damage.
Thinning of the Prefrontal Cortex
If students were struggling in their studies before Spring Break, their binge drinking won’t help them become any smarter upon their return. A recent study and brain scan of individuals aged 18 to 25 showed that binge drinking causes the cortex in the prefrontal lobe of the brain to thin. This part of the brain regulates decisions, choices, and impulses, and processes emotions.
Binge drinking can be defined in males as drinking five or more alcoholic drinks in one day, and in females as drinking four or more alcoholic drinks in one day. Standard measurements for one drink are defined as any of the following:
- 12-ounce beer
- 12-ounce wine cooler
- 5-ounce glass of wine
- 1.5-ounce shot of 80-proof whiskey, vodka, or gin
Dr. Alicia Ann Kowalchuk, director of InSight, an early alcohol and drug intervention program, in the Harris County Hospital District, and assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine, explains that drinking at early ages can cause developmental delays. Brains are rapidly developing through the age of 25. In those years, if the prefrontal cortex is damaged, individuals may have a more difficult time making sound decisions and choices throughout their life.
Poor Decision Making
Kowalchuk emphasizes that alcohol and the permanent damage it can do to the brain impairs good decision making. After binge drinking, young adults are more likely to be risk takers. They may not be able to see the consequences of driving while intoxicated or driving with others who are intoxicated, engaging in unsafe sex, or partaking in criminal activity.
A study in England suggests that binge drinking also affects memory retention. A group of University students, who consumed five or six drinks in a day, two or more times a week, were studied against students who did not engage in binge drinking. Both set of students were asked to remember a series of instructions that they were given. The amount of instructions that binge drinkers could recall was significantly lower than was the amount recalled by non-binge drinkers.
Prevention Starts at Home
Dr. Kowalchuk stresses that children need firm guidance from their parents on alcohol use. Some parents believe that allowing their children to drink in their own home, even with friends, will keep them from drinking and driving somewhere else, but research proves otherwise. Those children whose parents are lenient about drinking at home have much higher drinking rates than other teens. Dr. Kowalchuk says that if parents even waiver about drinking a bit, teens take that as a signal that it is fine to drink at their age.
Given the overall approval to drink by their parents, these teens believe they can be responsible drinking outside the home, too. This poor decision is compounded by the alcohol they consume, which also impairs their judgment and choices.