Binge drinking is not only harmful to teenage brain development, but teens who repeatedly drink in excess may also be imparting the habit's negative effects to their future children, researchers have found.
In a study presented at Neuroscience 2016, Society for Neuroscience's annual meeting, researchers detailed their discovery that repeated binge drinking in adolescents can affect the brain function of future children, possibly putting offspring at risk of depression and metabolic disorders.
The research team worked with a rat model where a group of adolescent rats, both male and female, were given alcohol that was the equivalent of six episodes of binge drinking. When the rats sobered up, they mated, producing offspring. The females were kept sober throughout their pregnancies so fetal alcohol syndrome was ruled out as a possible cause for any of the effects on baby rats.
Binge Drinking Effects In Offspring
According to the researchers' findings, binge drinking in adolescence affects future offspring by altering the on-off switches multiple genes in the brain have. Turned on, genes instruct cells to produce proteins, ultimately controlling behavioral and physical attributes.
In the rat offspring part of the study, however, researchers found that genes that were usually turned on have been turned off, and the reverse is also true. Specifically, they recorded 159 DNA changes in the offspring, 93 from offspring that had just binge-drinking fathers and 244 from those that had both binge-drinking mothers and fathers.
The study is the first to present how binge drinking has the potential to impart neurological effects on subsequent generations. It wasn't clear, however, up to how many offspring the effects would persist in.
Teenage Binge Drinking In The U.S.
Binge drinking is defined as having an elevated concentration of alcohol in the blood by 0.08 percent within two hours. This blood alcohol level is equivalent to four drinks for females and five for males.
With 21 percent of teens reporting binge drinking within the last 30 days, it has become a major health concern in the country. Among those who drink and were under 21 years old, more than 90 percent of alcohol they have had were consumed during episodes of binge drinking.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, people between 12 and 20 years old are responsible for drinking 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the country, and boys binge-drink more than girls do. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those who engage in underage drinking are likelier to experience school, social, developmental and memory problems.