Binge drinking warning: THIS is the real damage it could do to your brain

Drinking five or more drinks for men and four or more for women within two hours causes distinctive changes in brain activity in students leading to muddled thoughts.

The changes are similar to those seen in chronic alcoholics and suggest it impairs a teenager's brain development and may indicate an early sign of brain damage.

It is estimated a third of young European drinkers binge drink and it is rife on university campuses but the levels may not be a particularly heavy night for some.

Previous studies found binge drinking was linked to neurocognitive deficits, poor academic performance, and risky sexual behaviour.

While studies have found heavy drinking by alcoholics altered brain activity, there is also evidence that bingeing can change a teenager's brain too.

Dr Eduardo Lopez-Caneda, of the University of Minho in Portugal said: “A number of studies have assessed the effects of binge drinking in young adults during different tasks involving cognitive processes such as attention or working memory.

“However, there are hardly any studies assessing if the brains of binge drinkers show differences when they are at rest, and not focused on a task.“

So the study recruited first year Spanish undergraduates to see if the resting brains of binge-drinking college students showed any differences compared with those of their non-bingeing counterparts.

The students filled in a questionnaire on their drinking habits and those who had taken part in at least one binge session within the previous month were considered to be binge drinkers.

Non-bingers were those who had never binged before. 

Brain scans by attaching electrodes to the students' scalps assessed the electrical activity in various brain regions.

Binge drinkers had altered brain activity at rest and showed significantly higher measurements of specific electrophysiological parameters, known as beta and theta oscillations, in brain regions called the right temporal lobe and bilateral occipital cortex.

They suffered very similar alterations to those of chronic alcoholics.

Dr Lopez-Caneda warned the changes might indicate a decreased ability to respond to external stimuli and potential difficulties in information processing capacity in young binge drinkers.

This may represent some of the first signs of alcohol-induced brain damage and suggested their young brains were particularly vulnerable to the effect of alcohol. 

He added. “These features might be down to the particularly harmful effects of alcohol on young brains that are still in development, perhaps by delaying neuromaturational processes.

“It would be a positive outcome if educational and health institutions used these results to try to reduce alcohol consumption in risky drinkers.”

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience.