A new study released this week describes how binge drinking — consuming too much alcohol, too fast — affects the brain, leading to anxieties and other cognitive issues.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines binge drinking as a man consuming five or more drinks in about two hours; four drinks for a woman. The CDC reports the habit is growing problem in the United States, especially among young people, with 1 in 6 adults binge drinking about four times a month.
Previous research examined the long-term effects of binge drinking on the brain, but this latest study, published Tuesday in the journal Science Signaling, focused specifically on immediate effects of binge drinking on the brain.
To do this, the researchers from the University of Porto in Portugal gave an alcohol solution to mice, equivalent to 10 days of binge drinking, which spurred immune cells in mice brains to destroy the synapses — or connections — between neurons, leading to anxiety and other cognitive issues.
University of Porto researcher João Relvas, co-author of the study, said in an interview, "Even for a short period of time, excessive drinking is likely to affect the brain, increasing the level of anxiety, a relevant feature in alcohol abuse and addiction."
Dangers of alcohol 'underestimated'
Relvas said further studies in humans could reveal the exact drinking patterns that spark synaptic dysfunction. But for now, Relvas cautioned that people should pay attention to their intake and follow public health guidelines on drinking in moderation.
"The dangers of alcohol drinking, especially amongst the younger population, have been widely underestimated and excessive alcohol drinking is socially relatively well tolerated," Relvas said.
He said studies like theirs should help increase public awareness and education among people young and perhaps change the way society looks at alcohol consumption.
Dietary guidelines determined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture define moderate drinking as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.