The National Institutes of Health posted April 2 for immediate release the results on teen binge drinking and the brain. The main result is that when adolescents binge drink they can disrupt the normal gene regulation and brain development which promotes anxiety and furthers drinking into adulthood (study from NIAAA). “These findings are an important contribution to our understanding of the alcohol-induced brain changes that make alcohol problems in adulthood more likely among young people who abuse alcohol,” said NIAAA Director George F. Koob, Ph.D. They added, “Previous studies have shown that people who start drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to meet the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives, and young people consume more than 90 percent of their alcohol by binge drinking.”
Rats exposed to alcohol during adolescence exhibited changes in behavior that lasted into adulthood, long after their adolescent binge exposure to alcohol had ended. For example, they showed increased anxiety-like behaviors and drank more alcohol in adulthood” (research from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a Research Career Scientist at Jesse Brown Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Chicago)
Prior research has implicated a brain structure known as the amygdala in anxiety and alcohol-drinking behaviors. When Dr. Pandey and his colleagues analyzed the amygdala of alcohol-exposed rats in their study, they found that the complex of DNA and histone proteins within the amygdala cell nuclei appeared to be tightly wrapped. They also found increased levels of a protein called HDAC2, which modifies histones in a way that causes DNA to be wound tighter around them. Collectively, these kinds of changes to DNA or its associated proteins that change its function but do not affect the DNA sequence are referred to as epigenetic changes.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the National Institutes of Health, is the primary U.S. agency for conducting and supporting research on the causes, consequences, prevention, and treatment of alcohol abuse, alcoholism, and alcohol problems. NIAAA also disseminates research findings to general, professional, and academic audiences. Additional alcohol research information and publications are available at http://www.niaaa.nih.gov.