When teens go on a binge drinking episode, they may be doing serious damage to the sensitive "white matter" in their brain, a new MRI-based study suggests.
White matter is involved in relaying information between brain cells, the researchers said. This means that damage caused to the developing brain by bouts of heavy drinking could affect thinking and memory, even lowering school performance.
Although white matter impairment has been seen in the brains of adult alcoholics, "we were somewhat surprised that these adolescents who had histories of binge drinking showed significantly poorer quality of their white matter," said lead researcher Susan F. Tapert, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, and director of Substance Abuse/Mental Illness at the VA San Diego Healthcare System.
The cause of the damage is not fully understood, Tapert said.
The report was published in the April 22 online edition of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.