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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, May 15, 2015

For this week’s roundup we have the results of three new studies of the causes, prevalence, and consequences of binge drinking.

Brain Protein Appears to Block Binge Drinking

A brain protein called GIRK3 (a member of the “G protein-gated inwardly rectifying potassium channel” (GIRK) family) may play an important role in moderating binge drinking in mice, according to researchers from The Scripps Research Institute. Based on evidence that the GIRK family can be directly activated by alcohol and the knowledge that the specific protein in question, GIRK3, modulates the effect of drugs such as GHB and cocaine, researchers removed GIRK3 in lab mice then exposed them to alcohol. They observed that the modified mice were more likely to drink to the point of intoxication when given access to ethanol for just two hours a day, a condition meant to mimic a human happy hour (or college party.) These results suggest one possible avenue for pharmaceutical research aimed at addressing binge drinking.

New Study Reveals where Binge Drinking is Most Prevalent

A new study published by the American Journal of Public Health reveals which American counties have the highest rates of binge drinking and heavy drinking amongst adults 21 and over. Heavy drinking, defined as more than two drinks a day for men and more than one a day for women, was most prevalent in Menominee County in Wisconsin, and least common in Madison County, Idaho. Binge  drinking, defined as more than 5 drinks for men and 4 for women in about 2 hours, was most common in Esmeralda County, Nevada, and least common in Hancock County, Tennessee, where just 2.4% of drinking-age adults partook in binge drinking. Overall, the areas with the highest rates of problem drinking and drinking in general were New England, the West coast, and northern parts of the West and Midwest. Click the link above to see maps of problem drinking by county.

Binge Drinking Permanently Damages Developing Brains

Finally, if anyone doubted the dangers binge drinking poses to college students, a new study confirms that the dangers of heavy drinking lie not just in reckless decisions and alcohol poisoning when a student is intoxicated, but also in damage done to the brain that will linger—permanently. Research conducted on lab rats suggests that binge drinking creates permanent, negative changes in the developing brain. Since brain development in humans continues into the mid-twenties, these findings have sobering implications for the consequences of college binge drinking. Rats given alcohol while still in rodent adolescence had impaired memory and learning ability.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, September 12, 2014

Substance abuse is a persistent problem on college campuses. What role does brain chemistry play in young people’s vulnerability to alcohol and other drugs? These two articles suggest some answers.

Brain Chemistry and the Low Price of Drinks Drive College Binge Drinking

What is it that drives some college students to drink to excess again and again and again? This piece from NPR explains that there are multiple factors driving college binge drinking. One is brain chemistry. College-aged brains are still developing, so while the part of the brain that seeks reward and stimulation is fully mature by the time 18 year olds begin their freshman year, the bits that control impulsive behavior still have a ways to go. This imbalance is what makes taking too many shots or playing drinking games seem so appealing. The other big factor may seem more obvious, but is also more controllable. The lower the average price of a drink in an area, the more binge drinking is reported amongst local college students.

Adolescent Marijuana Use Correlates to “All Adverse Young Adult Outcomes”

A new study from the British journal The Lancet Psychiatry suggests that teenaged marijuana use correlates strongly to a variety of alarming outcomes. Teen pot-smokers were 60% less likely than peers to graduate from high school, 60% less likely to finish college, seven times more likely to attempt suicide and eight times more likely to use other illegal drugs than their non-smoking counterparts. Significantly, the authors found that even “low levels” of marijuana use (as infrequently as once per month) greatly increased teens risks of the aforementioned negative outcomes when compared to teens who did not smoke marijuana at all, suggesting that “there may not be a threshold where [cannabis] use can be deemed safe” for adolescents. With the legal landscape shifting quickly on the issue of marijuana possession and use, it seems clear that any legislative reforms must take pains to keep cannabis out of the hands of teen users.

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