Researchers find binge boozing is bad for your brain – but isn’t that a no-brainer?

Someone’s brains have taken a beating, too…

Alf is apt never to take advice if it requires him to emulate the French.

But he is bound to say he has not observed as much binge boozing among the Frogs as among the Brits and the boorish buggers who can be found making drunken dicks of themselves in NZ’s city streets.

Accordingly he is tempted to pay more than passing heed to the story (here) about binge drinking and the mischief it does to a binge boozer’s brains.

Binge drinking can damage the brain within months and turn social drinkers into alcohol abusers, researchers warn.

Tests found that having a smaller amount of alcohol every day – as the French do – is far safer.

The scientists who undertook this work exposed rats to alcohol for three days a week. If they had come here they could have worked with the Mongrel Mob or some such.

The findings – they claim – provide an insight into how the brain adapts to drinking patterns.

They found that the ‘binge-drinking’ rats were consuming far more than those with a continuous supply of alcohol after only six weeks.

The binge-drinking rats also showed signs of impairment in brain function similar to that of established alcoholics after only a few months.

The researchers linked the rats’ impairment to a small group of brain cells, or neurons, in the prefrontal cortex of the brain.

Alf would not know where that bit of the brain might be, but it seems it normally acts as a brake on emotional and impulsive behaviour.

These neurons were unusually active in the periods between drinking binges – and the more active they were, the more the rats drank when they next had access to alcohol.

The lead researcher was a bloke called Olivier George from The Scripps Research Institute in California.

He is quoted as saying –

‘It’s like a lot of things in life that the brain perceives as good – if it loses access to it, you feel bad, you get into a negative emotional state, a little bit frustrated, and so you take more the next time you have access.

‘We suspect that this very early adaptation of the brain to intermittent alcohol use helps drive the transition from ordinary social drinking to binge drinking and dependence.’

The study has been published in the online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dr George said tests carried out during ‘dry’ intervals between drinking sessions showed the binge-drinking rats scored poorly on memory, and also struggled with emotions.

‘We normally see such changes in the brains of humans or other animals that are highly dependent on alcohol – but here we found these changes in the rats after only a few months of intermittent alcohol use,’ he said.

The impairments did not appear at all in the rats that drank every day.

Their alcohol intake remained stable.

‘They just drink a bit like the French way, the equivalent of a couple of glasses of wine every day, and they’re fine,’ Dr George said. ‘They don’t escalate.’

The binge-drinking rats’ problems went away if they were kept off alcohol for about two weeks –but the impairment would return if they drank again.

Dr George spoke of a vicious circle.

‘One can see the vicious cycle here,’ Dr George said.

‘They drink to restore normal prefrontal function, but ultimately that leads to even greater impairment.’

But maybe someone is wrongly interpreting what they have been observing.

The lesson – the way Alf sees it – is that you will do yourself a mischief if you knock off boozing for a week or so.

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