Youthful Binge Drinking Damages the Adult Brain

When I was a teenager, from the age of 11 till 22, I drank a lot, whenever I could get my hands on alcohol. Although I was fortunate to get sober when I was still in my twenties, I have always suspected that the early drinking that I did had a profound effect on my brain. I have trouble with my memory, especially remembering names and other important details. In a recent study published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, researchers explain that this impairment may very well have been caused by my excessive drinking in my early years. In short, the hippocampus area of the teenage brain is permanently damaged by early binge drinking.

The researchers state:

Human adolescence is a crucial stage of neurological development during which ethanol (EtOH) consumption is often at its highest. Alcohol abuse during adolescence may render individuals at heightened risk for subsequent alcohol abuse disorders, cognitive dysfunction, or other neurological impairments by irreversibly altering long-term brain function. 

The research findings indicate that the above statement is true, that repeated alcohol exposure before the mid-20s, when the brain finishes its normal development, results in enduring functional and structural changes to the hippocampus. These abnormalities are related to the behavioral changes caused by binge drinking during the teen years.

The LA Times explains:

Essentially, the researchers concluded, the brains of the adult rats that had binged in adolescence looked and acted like those of immature rats. But they weren’t immature in a stronger, faster, more youthful way; they were immature in a way that suggested they might never likely settle down and function in ways that allow learning to proceed and memories to be built, stored and maintained efficiently.


Parents, it can be frustrating when your admonitions to your teenage and young adult children to stay away from alcohol go unheeded. Keep trying. Young people do not have the ability to fully comprehend the long-term impacts of binge drinking on their health and development. There are some choices that once made, there is no going back from. Encourage the young people you know not to drink until they are of age and when they are of age, not to drink to the point of being drunk. They may not listen, but you must share the information you have. You may be all that stands between them and a lifetime of impairment.