Teenagers who binge drink risk trapping their brains in permanent adolescence and lay the groundwork for alcoholism, new research shows.
A new study has looked at the effect of excessive binge drinking during adolescence on a particular receptor in the brain. It found irreversibly altered the brain, keeping it in an adolescent state.
And the earlier in life someone starts bingeing, the worse the possible outcomes.
"Because it inhibits part of the brain's development, binge drinking over time keeps people in an emotionally immature state," Queensland University of Technology Professor Selena Bartlett says.
"This often leads to huge problems when in their 30s and 40s when people come face to face with the demands of life."
Prof Bartlett says the human brain doesn't fully develop until around age 25 and bingeing during adolescence modifies its circuits, preventing the brain from reaching maturity.
"During adolescence, the brain undergoes massive changes in the prefrontal cortex and areas linked to drug reward but alcohol disrupts this," she says.
"The research, which was carried out on rats, suggests that during ageing, the brain's delta opioid peptide receptor (DOP-R) activity turns down, but binge drinking causes the receptors to stay on, keeping it in an adolescent stage.
"The younger a child or teenager starts binge drinking and the more they drink, the worse the possible outcome for them."
The recent trend to mix high-caffeine drinks with alcohol are making the problem even worse, Prof Bartlett says.
"Historically, a young person who'd had too much to drink might be sick, pass out or have fallen to sleep but now the high-caffeine drinks keep them awake longer enabling them to drink even more," she said.
Prof Bartlett's research was published in The Journal of Neuroscience.