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Binge Drinking More Harmful To Teenage Girls

July 17, 2011

Teenage girls may be more vulnerable to the long term effects of binge drinking than their male counterparts, claims a new study from researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and Stanford University.

As part of the study, which will be published in the October 2011 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, UCSD Psychiatry Professor Susan F. Tapert and colleagues studied a total of 95 students, ages 16 to 19, from nearby public schools. Of those subjects, 40 were classified as binge drinkers (27 male and 13 female) and 55 control participants (31 male, 24 female).

Each subject was asked to complete “neuropsychological testing, substance use interviews, and a SWM task during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI),” according to a July 15 Stanford University School of Medicine press release.

“Our study found that female teenage heavy drinkers had less brain activation in several brain regions than female non-drinking teens when doing the same spatial task,” Tapert said in a statement.

“These differences in brain activity were linked to worse performance on other measures of attention and working memory ability,” she added. “Male binge drinkers showed some but less abnormality as compared to male non-drinkers. This suggests that female teens may be particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of heavy alcohol use.”

In addition, the greater impact binge drinking has on teenage girls could be attributed to hormonal differences between the two genders, the fact that females of that age group tend to have slower metabolic rates, as well as higher body fat ratios and lower body weight, claims AFP reporter Karin Zeitvogel.

“Using MRI scans, the study team found that female teenage heavy drinkers had less brain activation in several brain regions than female non-drinking teens when doing the same spatial task,” BBC News noted in a Friday article on the study. “They suggested that this could cause problems when driving, playing sports involving complex moves, using a map or remembering how to get somewhere.”

While women may be more likely to suffer long-term effects from binge drinking, the authors made it clear that both teenage boys and girls could potentially be impacted by such behavior.

“The teens we examined have relatively limited experience with alcohol, are drinking at levels that are widespread for kids their age–almost a quarter of all seniors admit to binge drinking in the preceding two weeks–have no diagnosable alcohol or drug disorder, do not use other drugs, and do not have any mental health disorders,” Tapert said.

“And yet binge-drinking is a dangerous activity for all youth,” added Stanford University’s Edith V. Sullivan, a professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. “Long after a young person–middle school to college–enjoys acute recovery from a hang-over, this study shows that risk to cognitive and brain functions endures. The effects on the developing brain are only now being identified. ‘Why tamper with normal developmental trajectories that will likely set the stage for cognitive and motor abilities for the rest of one’s life?’”

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