Beware The Binge. Your Brain will Thank You.

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July 23, 2017 by gregrabidoux2013

Misunderstood. Deadly.

It’s a rite of passage, right?

Text your friends, meet up, tap the kegs, throw down some body shots, maybe toss in a few games of beer pong, you know party down, post the blurry pics on snapchat, Instagram the whole thing.

It’ll be epic.

And if you drink a bit too much, okay maybe a lot too much, so what?

You’re only young once, right?

You call it “partying” your doctor calls it Binge Drinking.

And now there’s scientific evidence that the effects of “bingeing” last long after the pounding headache, nausea and black outs have subsided.

What fun.

The truth?

If you binge between the ages of 15-25 you are most at risk to do severe and permanent damage to two crucial areas of your developing brain;

Your ventral diencephalon which regulates sensory information and hormones and the middle temporal gyrus which controls your cognitive reasoning abilities.

So, the immediate aftermath of binge drinking, the slurred speech, the dizziness, inability to stand up or walk straight, the passing out and “blackies” (blacking out and experiencing short term amnesia) which thankfully either all fade and in the case of memory are regained (well, mostly even if the memories triggered by those snapchat shots or ill-advised FaceBook posts are less than pleasant) are just the beginning if the damage caused by binge-drinking.

Hung-over? That’s just the start.

Thanks to new studies published by the University of Oregon, depending on how much and how often you binge, your ability and capacity to perform tasks that require cognitive reasoning, analytical processing, critical thinking and even fairly basic problem-solving may all be damaged and sharply curtailed. Permanently.

So, for high school and college students it’s not just that fuzzy head that makes taking tests or learning new information the next morning or even into the next day difficult or impossible, it’s your ability to do so over your lifetime.

More startling news?

It seems that binge drinking negatively impacts teenage and young adult females worse than males.

Most vulnerable, most damaging.

For reasons science is still investigating, the left cerebellum of developing female brains shows more immediate, short and long-term damage from binge drinking than their male counterparts. This is the area of your brain that allows proper muscle development and movement and ability to process information and verbal and non-verbal cues from new situations and interactions.

One of the practical and undesirable effects of binge drinking then is correlated with a lessened ability to perform tasks and learn new information especially in cognitive-heavy areas like math, science and engineering.

Sisterhood? Misery likes company.

So, if Binge drinking is bad for you (and honestly, did we really think it ever wasn’t?) and now we have an even better sense of just how bad, then in part, the question becomes, just what is Binge Drinking?

Well, here is where it becomes a bit, um, blurry.

Medical folks usually avoid a clear answer by saying it depends in part on one’s genetics, body type, pre-disposition to alcohol and even cultural association with alcohol.

But…

Studies like the Oregon and others at San Diego State university along with researchers at Duke University seem to all share the following definition;

An excessive amount of alcohol consumption in a relatively short period of time, usually involving a mixing of alcohol types (like shots of Tequila, Schnapps, Beer and mixed (hard) drinks).

At least, don’t mix.

Thanks “Perfesser,” but what is excessive and a short period of time?

A rough guide seems to be anything more than 3 mixed drinks in an hour or consuming 3 or more 8 ounce beers in an hour and keeping this pace up for at least 2 or more hours for girls and slightly (but not as high as you may assume, for boys).

But let’s let the Bingers answer that one, shall we?

Surveys at some of the Top 10 “Party Schools” shared their own numbers, the results?

Seems when female college students “binge,” they drink between 2-3 mixed drinks, at least 3 shots and 1-2 eight ounce beers in an hour. Males admit to doing at least 4-6 shots of alcohol like Tequila, at least 2-3 eight ounce beers and 1-2 mixed drinks like Jack Daniels and Coca-Cola in an hour.

This pace of alcohol consumption is more or less maintained for at least 2-3 hours, with some students admitting they blacked out, vomited, and then came back for “rounds 2 and 3.”

Yep, I’d say that’s binge drinking.

And how often do bingers binge?

Seems that in a given academic semester (roughly 4 months) it is quite common for university/college students to binge drink at least twice each month or about 8-10 times a semester.

Do the math folks, that’s a lot of booze and a lot of probable if not now, definite damage, to developing brains.

Worse?

Seems many of our most vulnerable and developing teens in high school are outdoing their university aged counterparts.

Is it cultural? Do we make alcohol too “taboo” in the US, in part, fostering alcohol abuse? Do we tie alcohol to far too many rites of passages in this country? Is our alcohol abuse, our bingeing, covering up some profound lacks of social skills, comfort with the opposite sex, being comfortable about who we are without being buzzed or obliterated?

Alcohol abuse counselors at high schools and universities cite all of the above plus issues like bullying, insecurity, peer pressure and a desire to be “part of the crowd” and to “be accepted” as just some of the many factors which seem to propel far too many teens and adults to binge drink.

But one thing out of the fog of alcohol abuse is far too clear now:

Binge drinking is bad. Really bad for your brain.

And no amount of gum, aspirin, or sleep the next day will completely undo the damage.

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23 thoughts on “Beware The Binge. Your Brain will Thank You.

  1. Clint B says:

    I will be the first to admit that in college I was in this category. I had fun whenever the time presented itself. I made good grades and worked full time and even had somewhat of a social life. I can tell you though that the cognitive abilities I had after a night of fun were not my “A Game”. I probably wouldn’t have listened to anyone who told me so back then but with a clear head these days I can tell I am a sharper person and worker without alcohol in more than a small quantity.

  2. Michelle E says:

    As the parent r article of two young men, I can tell you that I was unaware that the binge drinking culture was as pervasive as it is. As a college student, I partook in drinking and parties like everyone else, but I think much of the hard core stuff occurred among the guys after the girls left the party. This article alarms me because while I knew this was part of college and growing up, I focused my efforts on asking them to be “reasonable and responsible” (in context) in their actions to make sure they were not harmed and their friends were safe. Until now, I thought I had achieved that goal, but I find the long term complications of this practice frightening. I probably would have changed how I talked to them about binge drinking had I been aware. Thanks for an informative and thoughtful column.

  3. Michelle E says:

    As the parent of two young men, I can tell you that I was unaware that the binge drinking culture was as pervasive as it is. As a college student, I partook in drinking and parties like everyone else, but I think much of the hard core stuff occurred among the guys after the girls left the party. This article alarms me because while I knew this was part of college and growing up, I focused my efforts on asking them to be “reasonable and responsible” (in context) in their actions to make sure they were not harmed and their friends were safe. Until now, I thought I had achieved that goal, but I find the long term complications of this practice frightening. I probably would have changed how I talked to them about binge drinking had I been aware. Thanks for an informative and thoughtful column.

    • Michelle, I am with you-I was also alarmed though not shocked by recent studies. I have seen over the past 10-12 years these “parties” are nothing more than teens and college students simply sitting around with their I-phones and texting or sending snapchats while they literally abuse alcohol. It’s almost like many younger people simply do not know how to interact without binge drinking or are so socially uncomfortable this binge “till we drop somehow makes them feel okay (until the next day of course). And my even bigger concern is that many of our girls and female students are engaging in this risky and dangerous behavior in increasing numbers.

  4. Charlotte Y says:

    I binge drank for my first 2 years of college until I realized that as you point out Dr. R, binge drinking is just a nicer way of saying alcohol abuse. I didn’t like the decisions I made and how I would feel not just the next day but for days. My last 2 years of college were (almost) alcohol free. I have no regrets. I feel terrible when I see so many girls being so stupid this way.

  5. Cynthia H says:

    As a parent I’ve tried to talk to my oldest who is a senior this fall in high school. But he probably just thinks it’s Mom being a Mom. I will share this blog and we’ll chat. It helps to have the facts. Thanks Dr. Rab.

  6. Aaron W says:

    Wow! I binge drank all the way through undergrad. I always thought that the side effects were only for a limit of time and not result in permanent effects to my body. This is a great article and I hope high school and college students read it and absorb the information.

  7. Angelia B. says:

    The article is extremely disturbing, and yet so true. The long-term detriment that can occur to the developing brain of a 15-25 year old is astounding. I do not know what else can be done, to prevent young people for partaking in this type risky behavior, other than bringing more awareness to the problem. As a parent myself, of four young adults who range from 21-26, I talked until I was blue in the face about this type behavior when they were much younger. You can only hope, and pray they make the right decision.

  8. Will J says:

    Binge drinking was popular during undergrad but my friends and I were beer drinking bar flies. We knew the dangers then as a few students died of alcohol poisoning at one time or another. I can’t imagine what creative reasons are used today to binge drink as we didn’t have the internet or social media. This is a great blog to show my sons, especially as the two oldest are on the verge of college age.

  9. Laura D. says:

    This is alarming! It makes sense, all of our decisions lead to actions that have consequences. Would we binge drink in our younger days had we known the long term effect it was causing to our brain? Maybe so or maybe not. I do think education on this is important for the younger generations, and I wish they would make wiser decisions. Despite the negative health effects of binge drinking, think of how much money they are spending on alcohol.

  10. CJ says:

    I agree that this is alarming. I think it’s very common for people that do not drink very often. For example, some people drink on special occasions(whether happy or sad) and “binge drink” for a number of reasons, not realizing what they are doing or how much they are consuming in a short period of time. It is important that we share this knowledge and get people to understand what are the consequences and the importance of “moderation” and wisdom. I have seen on TV the “binge” drinkers and it is quite scary to say the least.

  11. Sarah M says:

    This is very sad. I know it is important to bring awareness, but the unfortunate thing is that I believe even if that is done it just won’t make a huge impact. I knew drinking was not good for me when I was younger, but that didn’t stop me from doing it. It is such a cultural act among undergrad students now. I have a very good friend who started binge drinking towards the end the high school and a few years later ended up in the hospital waiting for a liver transplant. There are so many negative effects to your body, but your brain is definitely a little scary.

  12. MICHAEL ROSE says:

    Working in law enforcement in a town that has 2 relatively large universities, I would contend that the numbers of 2 times a month or 8-10 binges a semester are quite low. I would like to see some longitudinal analysis of student retention and GPA along with memory evaluations based on reported binge drinking behavior over the latter parts of high school and through college.

  13. mike r says:

    Working in law enforcement in a town that has 2 relatively large universities, I would contend that the numbers of 2 times a month or 8-10 binges a semester are quite low. I would like to see some longitudinal analysis of student retention and GPA along with memory evaluations based on reported binge drinking behavior over the latter parts of high school and through college.

    • Jessica V says:

      Over the last 20 years, I have worked at a handful of universities, mostly in student leadership and residence life. I certainly saw my fair share of troubling behaviors related to alcohol abuse. Due to my position, I could have had the impression that alcohol abuse was really widespread (as do you from your position in law enforcement, mikerosevsudpa). However, in one my graduate assistantships, I was introduced to the research from the Core Institute at Southern Illinois University. One my projects was focused primarily on their findings on college norms. It seems that most people perceive there to be more drinking on college campuses that what is actually going on, and this is what actually reinforces some of the negative behaviors described above. They have data from a broad range of colleges and universities (and high schools as well). I haven’t studied their data in a few years, but I would imagine (and hope) that previous findings about perception vs. reality have been validated. They have a range of instruments that focus on different areas, including consequences, so they might already have some of the data you suggest collecting. Either way, the information provided by Dr. R. is enough to prompt some renewed efforts on college campuses (and probably high schools too) to address this issue.

  14. Ashley C says:

    I’m not sure what the problem is with alcohol and our young people. A lot of the things were identified, social acceptance, peer pressure, and lack of social skills. I personally believe that a lot of it has become the norm or the expectation.

    If I go out, I must drink. If I go to a party, I must drink. If I’m watching sports, I must drink.

    I personally drank alcohol twice before I tuned 21. Not the “average” teenager you could say. I was terrified of addictive behaviors because my grandmother and father had both struggled with alcoholism. I didn’t have my first drunken experience until about 21.5.

    I was very surprised at the LARGE amount of drinks the “typical college student” consumes in an hour. It’s rather outrageous. I’m not sure there is a defined answer to the problem. All we can really do is to educate people about the risks and dangers of over consumption. There’s nothing wrong with a drink here or there, but there is an obvious risk of having a few too many.

    I have an older step daughter. I’m 29, she will be 18 in a few months. One of the benefits of our age difference (as the gap is not that large) is that she will, fortunately, take heed to many of my opinions and viewpoints. I share articles like this with her often and we talk about my concerns and her own concerns as an underage friend of hers almost died in a DUI related vehicle accident. I hope our conversations and the shared information give her the ability to make better decisions.

  15. Tanya S says:

    You posed an intriguing question, “Do we make alcohol too “taboo” in the US, in part, fostering alcohol abuse?”. The information you provided truly shocks the conscience, but I am equally surprised the taboo element was not explored further. As a career law enforcement officer with a specialty in abuse and exploitation of women and children, I took extreme measures to remove as much “taboo” from the lives of my daughters as I could – one of which was alcohol. I saw too often the use of alcohol as a proliferation of risky behavior and my fear for their safety, as a mother first and an officer second, prompted me to prepare them as much as possible for future manipulation. When my daughters were 13 years old, I introduced them to alcohol in moderation. I allowed them to sample the taste, feel the effect on their bodies and minds, and from here we were able to have an open and honest conversation about how alcohol can be damaging in a plethora of ways because they were able to relate their own experience throughout our dialogue. Did this work? My oldest daughter resided in a major university town her freshman year of college (she ended her freshman year with a 4.0) and never once indulged in the party scene. Subsequently, never engaged in what is termed as binge drinking throughout her adult life (she is now 26) and has only drank to excess once, an experience she has never repeated. My youngest never moved past the “horrid” taste of alcohol to consume it in later years. Both attributed this aversion to excess to their experience at a time when they were curious about alcohol, which coincided with the times when friends were drinking and stealing booze from their parents stash, and that I allowed them to experiment at our home – a safe environment where no harm would come to them, minus the alcohol I allowed them to drink, of course.

    Now all these years later I deal with young girls on a daily basis who have been assaulted while under the influence of alcohol, most at the college they attend. The vast majority of these women attribute the amount of alcohol they consumed as a catalyst to inhibiting their ability to recognize the danger of the situation and their ability to defend themselves from the assault (yes, ultimately it is the offender responsibility not to offend, but that is a separate topic). Albeit a precarious endeavor on my part, I believed it was a risk worth taking to ensure they understood how alcohol effects the brain. Consequently, they never considered alcohol taboo from that point on.

  16. Kara L says:

    I was actually really surprised to read what the college students of top party colleges consider “binge drinking.” This article is quite enlightening, and when you consider the true damage that can occur even after the effects of alcohol has faded, it is so scary to think of what young high school and college students are doing to their brain. The impact of advertising these facts to teenagers and young adults would be questionable because teenagers do not process consequence the same way as mature adults.

  17. Rebecca W says:

    It is unfortunate that “binge drinking” seems to be an accepted piece of American culture. People I work with who have developed an addiction, of all types, often identify binge drinking habits as teenagers or young adults. Most endorse drinking as a way to cope with life experiences that are difficult or uncomfortable. How often do we hear people say after a difficult day – “I need a drink.” Not only are the physical ramifications of binge drinking becoming more evident we also must consider the emotional ramifications. Our brain learns and makes connections very well when dealing with something addictive. Substances (including alcohol) and behaviors that are addictive affects our limbic system which controls our ability to regulate emotions and feel pleasure. The connection often made is “I need this to” socialize, feel better, calm down, etc and it is a difficult connection to break. It is continually reinforced each time that addictive substance/behavior is used/done with a powerful reinforcement of pleasure. Our brain remembers this connection which can lead to years of pain, loss, and suffering.

  18. JCE says:

    This isn’t just a problem in the US. I have been to London 5 times in the past 20 years, and I’m always struck by the number of young people that I have seen completely blitzed and barely able to walk and/or passed out on the sidewalks on weekend nights. It’s worse every time I’m there (or perhaps I notice it more as I age?). On my last trip there, a young woman (likely in her 20’s) was completely blacked-out and laying on the curb in front of a bar. I asked a waiter if anyone was going to call an ambulance, and he said “why?” Perhaps this is a problem worldwide? I haven’t traveled outside the US and Europe enough to know. But besides a hangover, young people don’t seem to think the consequences are severe enough to quit binging on alcohol. I have two young teenagers myself and don’t even like to think about it. But I will share this blog post with them. The appeal to long term health is a message that needs to be shared with young people before they start drinking.

  19. James B says:

    It makes sense that alcohol consumption in youth places people at risk for brain damage. Many medications have dangerous side effects and alcohol is technically a poison that affects the whole body. It has been shown in the past that smoking and drug use can similarly cause permanent physical and mental damage.I have to agree with the societal acceptance of binge drinking. For many years Remerton, near Valdosta State University, based their budget on revenue from liquor licenses and alcohol/drug related arrests, That tiny town in the heart of Valdosta catered to the college party crowd, especially women, and offered no end of deals, bands, events, and other incentives to get kids to go there even during the weekdays. The economy, stricter law enforcement, and smoking bans have reduced the bar scene impact; however block, house, and fraternity/sorority parties are alive and well. These unregulated parties can be more dangerous than the bars because there is not necessarily going to be someone to take the keys from a drunk, say they have had enough, or offer a ride home. The risk of alcohol poisoning is much higher in such peer pressure fueled party situations. It is an incredible irony that extensive policing meant to protect these kids has chased them away from a relatively safe public place to unregulated private parties.

  20. Lauren H says:

    The point that you made about how we make alcohol “taboo” in the U.S. is very true. I have spent a good bit of time in Italy and walk away intrigued and amazed every time that young people (underage in our society), for the most part, manage their alcohol in a very mature manner. I have been at a wedding where children as young as 12 years old were handed champagne for the toast. In addition, while my family was visiting an Italian family, MY 12 year old was handed a glass of champagne when we were initially welcomed into their home. While this went against our “norms”, we allowed her a sip and moved on with introductions.

    Alcohol was not taboo in my home – so by the time I got to college I was basically “over it” and not particularly interested. I spent more time in college driving intoxicated friends who were breaking free of the rules of mama and daddy than actually partying myself. I think if parents spent more time educating their children about the effects of alcohol and explaining how blood alcohol level varies in your body based on your metabolism, hydration, and food in your system more college age students might make better choices when it comes to quantity of consumption.

  21. TLGBFT says:

    Binge drinking has hit my family really hard in the past few weeks. I have a female cousin who is a freshman at a major state university. She has been partying and binge drinking. Well, the worst case scenario occurred. She was sexually assaulted by an Uber driver. She and a friend opted to catch a ride with Uber knowing they were going to be drinking. Safe choice right? WRONG! Her intoxicated friend left her in the Uber. The driver climbed into the backseat with her and sexually assaulted her.
    Unfortunately, consuming tons of alcohol has been a college tradition for generations. Remember Animal House? I understand that college students are going to drink, but I am a staunch advocate for personal responsibility. The dangers of alcohol are well known. She knows the dangers but ignored them.

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