Your Adolescent Binge-Drinking Has Ruined Your Brain Forever

Put down your cocktails, kids: A recent study has examined the link between exposure to alcohol during adolescence and its effect on both learning and memory.

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Jul 8 2015, 6:00pm

There's really nothing like the prospect of inflicting some seriously permanent self-trauma to spice up a night of unfettered revelry, right? Hell, where would the fun in Whip-Its be if they didn't leave you with the brain damage equivalent of a donkey punch and your now-limp buddy in some sort of laugh coma that could last well into his 30s?

Well, get ready to learn what you probably already suspected. A study just published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research—my go-to read when standing in windowless rooms—examines the correlation between repeated exposure to alcohol during adolescence and its effect on both learning and memory.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking? We're all seriously screwed!

The study, brought to you by no less than Duke University Medical School's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, exposed adolescent rodents to alcohol in order to explore the resultant cellular and synaptic impact. The problem is this, say the scientists: The brain is not fully developed in adolescence. And repeated alcohol exposure to alcohol during adolescence will, in layman's terms, really zap some brain connections that could come in handy later in life.

Fuck. I don't know about you, but all I could think of in regard to my parents' totally unguarded liquor cabinet was: "snacks!"

So, to whom exactly are the researchers referring when they talk about "adolescents"? "In the eyes of the law, once people reach the age of 18, they are considered adult, but the brain continues to mature and refine all the way into the mid-20s," said lead author and post-doctoral researcher,Mary-Louise Risher. Are they kidding? No repeated alcohol exposure until your late 20s? The nation at large is in serious trouble.

Holy, shit! I'm vaguely remembering that time, nine years ago, when I passed out on my parent's now-urine-soaked couch, naked and clutching a dusty bottle of Drambuie that nobody was aware existed. You can't see it, but blood is totally trickling out of my ears right now.

Anyway, here's what happened in the experiment. The researchers exposed adolescent rodents to a level of alcohol that "would result in impairment, but not sedation." Even with no further alcohol exposure in adulthood, these rodents were, well, stupider than their teetotaling counterparts. "Repeated alcohol exposure ... resulted in long-lasting changes to the region of the brain that controls learning and memory," say the researchers.

Oh, shit. Suddenly I'm flashing back to those bottles of limoncello. The ones I surreptitiously drained at the around the tender age of about 12 ...

Back to the study: Memory and cognitive function in the rats were impaired due to hyperactivity in long-term potentiation, or LTP, a type of brain synapse mechanism. In short, the partying rats' synapses became saturated and the animals became incapable of learning.

Whoa. Now I'm recalling many sake-tinis, imbibed at the age of approximately 15, when my friends and I realized that the only place in town that wouldn't card us was the local Japanese restaurant. Shit!

Furthermore, the scientists say, a structural change occurred in the rats after they imbibed the rat-equivalent of too many White Russians. The dendritic spines—which are tiny protrusions from the branches of cells in the brain—remained immature thanks to the early alcohol exposure. In short, the researchers say, "something happens during adolescent alcohol exposure that change the way the hippocampus and other regions of the brain function" and that something is not good.

Goddammit. Party cups of Yellow Tail. Grain alcohol. Bacardi Breezers. Smirnoff Ice. It's all coming back to me now! I'm doomed!

All I can say is this: What the hell, it's 2015. Mental faculty is so totally overrateagdalxq ...

Irreversible brain damage aside, what would adolescence be without a touch of hooch? Let's face it, you just can't have any sort of real discourse on cognition unless you're pounding a water bottle sloppily filled with vodka and chasing that with as many liqueur-filled chocolates you can force down your zit-littered gob.