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06.04.2008 Health

Binge drinking 'damages memory'

Binge drinking 'damages memory'
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Binge drinking teenagers are still at risk of absent-mindedness and forgetfulness days later, a study says.

A team from Northumbria and Keele universities compared 26 binge drinkers with 34 non-bingers in memory tests, and found the drinkers fared worse.

They told the British Psychological Society conference that binge drinking could be harming developing brains.

A spokesman for the charity Addaction said drinking at dangerous levels was putting some young people at risk.

Binge drinking is already known to affect people's memories of past events.

In this study, the scientists looked at students aged 17 to 19 - a period when the brain is still developing.

Binge drinking was defined as at least eight units a session for a man and six for a woman once or twice a week.

The researchers said the binge drinkers studied consumed, on average, 30 units in just two sessions.

'Storing up problems'
The teenagers were tested three or four days after their last drinking session, so that their bodies would be free of alcohol.

They were asked to answer questions about how often they forgot to carry out tasks they intended to do, such as meeting with friends.

They were shown a video clip of a shopping trip after being given a couple of minutes to memorize a set of tasks prompted by various cues in the film, such as remembering to text a friend at a certain shop, or to check their bank accounts after seeing a person sitting on a bench.

Dr Thomas Heffernan, from the University of Northumbria and who led the study, said: "We found no differences between binge drinkers and non-binge drinkers in the self-reporting questionnaires, but when it came to the video the binge drinkers recalled significantly less than the non-binge drinkers.

"Although from their own reports they appeared to have good memories, they didn't perform as well in the video test.

"The binge drinkers recalled up to a third less of the items, a significant difference."

He said it was possible that the pre-frontal cortex or hippocampus regions of the brain were being impaired.

Dr Heffernan added: "There is evidence that excess alcohol and binge drinking in particular damages parts of the brain that underpin everyday memory.

"Not only may these teenagers be harming their memory, if their brains are still developing they could be storing up problems for the future."

A spokesman for the charity Addaction said: "While official figures show fewer young people are drinking overall, a small group of young people is drinking earlier in life and at dangerously high levels.

"Many of these young people are still at primary school and are drinking more than twice the recommended limit for adult women, with uncertain consequences for their future development."

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