I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but for all those kiddies and early 20 somethings out there who worry that their binge drinking may have jacked up their brains, you might be right. The scary warnings from those awkward and nauseating health classes might have actually had some merit as new studies reveal the actual physical damage that adolescent binge drinking can cause on the developing brain.
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Who would of thunk?
Despite the warnings from our parents, the DARE people, and whatever news advertisements we saw on TV, chances are, many of us probably started drinking somewhere in our teenage and adolescent years. Not sure why, but it is almost like a rite of passage for American kids these days. You know, steal some booze from your parents or your friends’ parents liquor cabinet. Most likely some god awful brown like Southern Comfort or Captain Morgan’s, drink til you puke, and then vow to never do it again. Then proceed to do it again the next weekend.
Sound familiar? Cool, we would probably get along. Here’s the thing, all those years of adolescent binge drinking, besides causing my now late stage alcoholism and drug addiction (2 years sober this month, woot-woot!), could and most likely did create serious learning and memory disabilities in my brain.
Here’s some Science about Binge Drinking !
In a study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research conducted by Duke University’s Medical School, repeated exposure to alcohol during adolescent binge drinking has been proven to affect both learning and memory.
I’m not surprised, it actually explains a lot.
So as we all know:
- The human brain does not fully develop until around the mid 20’s
- Repeated exposure to alcohol damages the synaptic channels in the brain
- Frequent binge drinking results in a physical craving, resulting in the need to drink more, which can lead to dependence and addiction
Here’s what the scientists know:
- The study was performed on adolescent rats – they were exposed to a level of alcohol that would result in impairment, but not sedation
- When the transitioned into adulthood, they were no longer exposed to alcohol
- In a series of tests in comparison to the rodents who were not exposed to alcohol in adolescents, those who were scored vastly lower on intelligence scales.
- The areas of the brain that were most affected were the learning and memory centers.
Science-y Words and Facts:
- Brain functioning was hindered due to long-term potentiation, or LTP, which is a brain synapse system.
- They were flooded over time from the alcohol, became saturated, and the rodents became incapable of learning
- Also, the dendritic spines (remember dendrites from anatomy class?) were unable to fully develop, which decreased the brain’s ability to pretty much communicate with itself.
So, What Now?
Okay, so fast forward ten years, and we can all admit, we probably could have waited to become adolescent binge drinkers if we were actually ready or willing to hear about the damage it would create to our later brains.
The good news, I guess, is that the brain damage that comes from our early years of partying, while not irreversible, does not mean that we are going to be societal outcasts or whatever, at least until we push everyone away with our incessant drug use and devastating alcoholism. So that’s… positive!
But really, the damage that we have potentially done to ourselves from adolescent binge drinking, while definitely hindering some of our higher academic goals, does not mean that we will never be able to finish school, or get a degree, or be able to hold down a job.
As a matter of fact, there are thousands and thousands of people in recovery who successfully go back to school, and find that, with a clean and sober mind, they are actually pretty good at it. Who knew?!
The brain is a pretty magical wonder, it should be put on the 7 wonders of the world for the amount of abuse and destruction that alcoholics and addicts can put them through. But the coolest part about it all is that the brain, the body, and the soul of an adolescent binge drinker can recover in time.
The trick here is catching it before you turn 40 and realize that you wasted a lot of years trying to chase the dragon of feeling okay by funneling booze and pills and powders into your body. Lucky for us, more and more young people, between the ages of 18-30, are coming into the rooms of 12 step fellowship, all over the country.
If You Want To Get Sober
Chances are, if you have been adolescent binge drinking, and continued that fiesta well into your late teens and twenties, you have probably tried to get sober at some point in that time, and realized that you couldn’t.
If you have tried this multiple times, with no success, chances are, you’re an alcoholic or an addict. Huzzah! I know it doesn’t sound like good news…. At all, but the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem! So, if you can safely admit that you have a problem, then you are well on your way.
Here are some helpful tips on both how to get sober, and how to get that brain functioning back in tip-top shape!:
- Check out a Meeting: It can be AA, NA, CA, MA, HA, whatever you choose. Go investigate, if you can relate to people, you might consider going again.
- Meet Some People in the Rooms: The scariest thing about addiction, is feeling like we will be forever alone, black sheeps for the rest of our lives.
- On the contrary, the rooms of 12 step meetings are filled with people who were just like us, and have gotten better!
- So step out of that comfort zone, and ASK FOR HELP!
- Work Your Steps!: Well, find a sponsor first, and then work your steps WITH them.
- We are actually PROMISED that through working the steps with an open mind and honesty, we will be relieved of the obsession to drink or get high.
- In my experience and countless others, it is nothing but the truth.
- Clean Up that Diet!: I know, I know, one beast a time, but studies DO show that people who eat a balanced diet in early recovery have a faster detox process.
- Try some Light Exercise: Gently, at first. But research proves that mild exercise every day boosts energy levels, serotonin, endorphins, and helps promote healthy sleep! All things that are greatly needed in early recovery.
- Stay Away from Temptation: Now this is not forever, but in the beginning, it is essential. Use this time to explore new avenues of excitement and adventure that you have always wanted to try.
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Whatever brain damage that results from adolescent binge drinking is nothing in comparison to the damage that comes from multiple decades of it. Getting sober in your early 20’s or 30’s is not actually a death sentence. It will not ostracize you from anyone in your life that is worth having in your life. It will give you the opportunity to actually become a pretty cool person, with lots of stories to tell, and a whole new, happy life. I guarantee it.
Charles F. has been an active part of the Florida recovery community for over 5 years. He began as a behavioral health technician at an addiction treatment facility in Ocala, Florida and has since begun training as a Licensed Addiction and Chemical Dependency counselor in Boca Raton. Charles’ passion involves the promotion of recovery and helping spread the hope of recovery to as many readers as possible!