Binge Drinking and Cognition
Many of us may be doing considerable damage to our brains because of our drinking habits, without even knowing it. One does not have to meet the criteria for alcohol abuse or addiction for alcohol to negatively impact our brain and cognitive functioning. There has been growing concern over the effects of even occasional binge drinking episodes on cognition. So, you might want to give this a thought before you go on your weekend binge drinking spree, or if you indulge in heavy drinking each time you’re on a break.
Binge drinking today is not only seen as an indicator of developing alcoholism, but is seen as a harmful behavior – one that is, in itself, capable of producing adverse affects on cognition and mood. One study even showed that bouts of increased drinking, followed by abstinence, causes more damage to the brain than drinking a certain amount of alcohol, continually, for the same period of time.
That binge drinking can produce deficits in learning and memory has been shown by a number of studies conducted in human and animal populations. These studies point especially to the damaging affects binge drinking can have on young people. Binge drinking in youngsters can not only cause serious damage to their brains, at that point of time, but also increase the chances of developing impairment in cognitive functioning later in life. The adolescent brain may be more susceptible to damage from excessive drinking as the brain, at that stage, is still in the process of developing. Additionally, the damage resulting from drinking may have long lasting effects, causing loss of memory later in life.
In older adults, binge drinking has been shown to affect cognition in women more than in men. Women who engage in binge drinking show more impairment in working memory and vigilance tasks as compared to men.
Apart from the adverse affect on adolescents and women, chronic alcohol consumption can produce effects that last longer than the period of actual drinking itself. Binge drinking for a period of six months or more can produce permanent deficits and brain damage. Further, studies conducted on rodents have implied much shorter durations of drinking than those previously reported in producing serious deficits in learning and memory; deficits which might be permanent. Continuous drinking for as little as eight weeks produced deficits in learning and memory that lasted up to 12 weeks after drinking was stopped.
Binge drinking has also been found to affect mood and has been associated with negative emotions and depression. In one study, individuals who binge drink reported less positive mood states as compared to those drinkers who did not engage in binge drinking.
Binge drinking is a far more serious drinking behavior than it was initially thought to be, with unfavorable affects on cognition – especially in adolescents and women – as well as negative affects on mood. Thus, one should be cautious of not only alcohol abuse and addiction, but even binge drinking.