Binge Drinking Youth Risk Cardiovascular Health
April 24, 2013

Youth Binge Drinking Can Lead To Heart Disease Later In Life

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Binge drinking among young adults causes immediate changes in circulation that increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease later in life, according to new research published online in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

"Regular binge drinking is one of the most serious public health problems confronting our college campuses, and drinking on college campuses has become more pervasive and destructive," said study leader Shane Phillips, PT, PhD, associate professor and associate head of physical therapy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

"Binge drinking is neurotoxic and our data support that there may be serious cardiovascular consequences in young adults."

College students age 18 to 25 years old have the highest rates of binge drinking episodes, with more than half engaging in binge drinking on a regular basis.

However, while previous studies have shown that binge drinking among adults age 40 to 60 years old is associated with an increase in risk for stroke, sudden cardiac death and heart attack, the effect on younger adults has not been studied.

In the current study, researchers looked at two groups of healthy nonsmoking college students: those who had a history of binge drinking and those who abstained from alcohol.

Binge drinking was defined as consuming five or more drinks (12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of 80 proof spirits or 8-9 ounces of malt liquor) in a two-hour period for males, and four or more such drinks in a two-hour period for females.

On average, the binge-drinking students had six such episodes each month over four years, while abstainers were defined as having consumed no more than five drinks in the prior year.

The students were also questioned about their medical history, diet, history of family alcohol abuse and frequency of binge drinking.

The researchers found that the binge drinkers had impaired function in the two main cell types — endothelium and smooth muscle — that control blood flow. These vascular changes were equivalent to impairment found in individuals with a lifetime history of daily heavy alcohol consumption, and can be a precursor for developing hardening of the arteries and other cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke, the researchers said.

Binge drinkers were not found to have increased blood pressure or cholesterol, which are well-established risk factors for heart disease. However, both high blood pressure and cholesterol cause changes in vascular function similar to what the students demonstrated.

"It is important that young adults understand that binge drinking patterns are an extreme form of unhealthy or at-risk drinking and are associated with serious social and medical consequences," said study co-author Mariann Piano, PhD, RN, professor and head of the department of bio-behavioral health science at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

"Discoveries and advances in many different areas of medical science have cautioned against the notion that youth protects against the adverse effects of bad lifestyle behaviors or choices."

The researchers said additional work is needed to determine if damage caused by binge drinking in young adulthood can be reversed before the onset of cardiovascular disease, and to determine the timeframe for onset of disease.

The study coincides with a new CDC Vital Signs report that finds that half of all high school girls who drink alcohol binge drink.

The problem is most commonly seen among high school girls and young women, although more than 14 million US women of all ages binge drink three times a month, consuming an average of 6 drinks per binge, according to the report.

This increases the chances of breast cancer, heart disease, sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancy and many other health problems, the CDC said.

“Drinking too much, including binge drinking (defined for women as consuming 4 or more drinks on an occasion) results in about 23,000 deaths in women and girls each year,” the CDC wrote in its report.

Binge drinking may be particularly problematic for women and girls, because their bodies respond to alcohol differently than men´s. For instance, it takes less alcohol for women to get intoxicated because of their size and how they process alcohol.

Furthermore, pregnant women who binge drink risk exposing their fetus to high levels of alcohol, increasing the chances the baby will be harmed by the mother´s alcohol use.

The full CDC report can be viewed here.