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