Binge-drinking teens may be risking future depression

November 15, 2010

Binge-drinking teenagers may be putting themselves at higher risk in adulthood for mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, Loyola University Health System researchers report.

A new Loyola study has found that exposing adolescent rats to binge amounts of alcohol permanently altered the system that produces hormones in response to stress. This disruption in "might lead to behavioral and/or mood disorders in adulthood," researchers reported.

Senior author Toni Pak, PhD, and colleagues reported their findings Nov. 15 at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego.

While results from animal studies don't directly translate to people, the findings do suggest a mechanism by which teenage binge drinking could cause in adulthood, Pak said.

"Exposing young people to alcohol could permanently disrupt normal connections in the that need to be made to ensure healthy adult ," Pak said.

Binge drinking is defined as a woman having at least four drinks or a man having at least five drinks on one occasion. Heavy binge drinkers can consume 10 to 15 drinks. Binge drinking typically begins around age 13 and peaks between 18 and 22, before gradually decreasing. Thirty-six percent of youths ages 18 to 20 reported at least one binge-drinking episode during the past 30 days, according to the Substance Abuse and Administration.

The Loyola study examined the long-term effects of alcohol on the production of the stress hormone corticosterone in rats. (The equivalent stress hormone in humans is cortisol).

Humans and rats produce stress hormones in response to physical or psychological stress. For example, in a "fight-or-flight" situation, a jolt of cortisol provides a burst of energy and a lower sensitivity to pain, while suppressing functions that aren't immediately needed, such as digestion. However, chronic exposure to cortisol and other stress hormones has been linked to depression, cardiovascular disease and other problems.

In the study, researchers exposed adolescent rats to an 8-day pattern: three days of alcohol binging, two days off, then three more days of binging. On binge days, rats were injected with enough alcohol to raise their blood alcohol concentration to between 0.15 percent and 0.2 percent. (In humans such concentrations would be roughly 2 to 2.5 times higher than the 0.08 legal limit for driving.)A control group of rats received injections of saline.

One month later, when the rats were young adults, they were exposed to one of three regimens: saline injections, a one-time alcohol injection or a binge-pattern of alcohol exposure. Alcohol is a form of stress, so not surprisingly, the animals that had either a one-time or binge alcohol exposure produced more of the corticosterone stress hormone. A more significant finding is that among rats that had received alcohol during adolescence, there was a significantly larger spike in corticosterone when they received alcohol during adulthood. These rats also had a lower base level of than rats that had remained sober during adolescence. These findings suggest that alcohol exposure during puberty permanently alters the system by which the brain triggers the body to produce stress hormones.

Explore further: Preference for Alcohol in Adolescence May Lead to Heavy Drinking

Related Stories

Research shows a link between alcoholism and memory

September 10, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- A University of Sussex leading expert on the psychological effects of drinking told an audience at the BA Festival of Science this week that the effect alcohol has on memory could contribute to alcoholism.

Why binge drinking is bad for your bones

October 23, 2008

Studies in recent years have demonstrated that binge drinking can decrease bone mass and bone strength, increasing the risk of osteoporosis.

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.