Binge drinking could result in plummeting moods and impair cognitive performance, a new UK study of young alcohol drinkers suggests. And the research indicates that women are more affected than men.
Getting drunk by downing large amounts of booze quickly, followed by days of abstinence can be considered as undergoing repeated alcohol withdrawal, say Theodora Duka at the University of Sussex, and Julia Townshend, now at Thames Valley University, both in the UK.
This kind of withdrawal is known to affect cognitive ability and emotional responses in alcoholic patients, so the pair set out examine the effects of binge-drinking on these responses.
“There is evidence that repeated, abrupt increases of alcohol levels in the brain, followed by abstinence, induces more damage in the brain than the same amount of alcohol taken uninterrupted in the same length of time,” says Duka.
The study found that young people whose questionnaires revealed them to be binge-drinkers were generally less upbeat than regular drinkers and did less well on short-term memory tests.
“It also seemed to be the women binge drinkers that were worse affected,” says Townshend. “The binge drinking population used to be mostly men and boys – but now they are very much being caught up by women. If it’s the case that their cognitive function is more impaired then this is something to worry about.”
“What is particularly novel about this report is the finding that females are impaired more than males,” agrees Fulton Crews, an alcohol researcher at the University of North Carolina, US.
Duka and Townshend surveyed 100 students aged 18 to 30 who said they were healthy and moderate-to-heavy social drinkers. They used the pattern of drinking to define binge drinking rather than simply counting the number of drinks in a row, or weekly alcohol consumption.
“You could be at a dinner party and have four drinks in a row but I wouldn’t say that was binge drinking,” explains Townshend. “But if you go out on a Friday night and drink to get drunk, it is more likely to be binge drinking.”