Bad to binge

By By Travis Currit

By Travis Currit

New evidence shows that heavy drinking during teenage years can cause irreparable brain damage and increases the risk of alcoholism.

This may come as bad news to the 22.8 percent of U students younger than 21 who said they have participated in binge drinking, as determined by a recent Campus Wellness Connection survey.

A recent study by Duke University used brain-imaging technology to find that large doses of alcohol shut down neural receptors in the brains of adolescent rats, causing permanent damage. The evidence indicates that the same damage probably occurs in humans as well.

Young alcohol abusers do more than just damage their brains, according to a national survey of 40,000 adults. The survey found that of those who began drinking before the age of 14, 47 percent became alcohol dependent at some time in their lives.

“Alcohol abuse can be a sign of other problems, like depression or bad grades,” said Rob Hunsaker of the Campus Wellness Connection.

Hunsaker’s organization directs those with substance abuse problems to services able to help them cope with other factors that may cause them to abuse alcohol, such as the U’s Counseling Center or the U’s tutoring center.

“We like to see alcohol abuse as a public health problem,” Hunsaker said. He cited the many social costs of alcohol abuse, including car accidents, rape, assault and injuries.

Since the new research suggests that age 21 is a proper legal drinking age, it will likely provide additional fodder in the drinking age debate on the side of those who oppose changing the current age.

“?Recent studies have shown that the brain keeps developing until the age of 20,” and is thus susceptible to the type of permanent damage found in the study, said Russell Short, prevention coordinator of the Campus Wellness Connection.

However, countries with legal drinking ages under 21 generally have fewer alcohol-related problems than the United States, according to studies by Dr. Ruth C. Engs of Indiana University.

Likewise, data from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the World Health Organization indicate that the United States and Europe have almost the same rate of alcohol dependency. Statistics show that 5 percent of males and 1 percent of females are alcohol dependent in each country in a given year.

“In Poland, we start with a little vodka at parties, even as small children,” said Agata Morka, a Polish graduate student currently studying in France. “When we get to college, it’s not a new and exotic toy. We learned how to drink responsibly from watching our parents.”

Lennie Mahler

In addition to increasing chances of alcoholism, binge drinking in adolescent years was shown to potentially cause permanent brain damage in a recent study by Duke University.