Ever wonder what binge drinking does to your brain? Chat with Duke University professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences Scott Swartzwelder to find out.

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Dr. Scott Swartzwelder
Wednesday, December 8, 2010; 12:00 PM

binge drinking and its effect on your brain

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binge drinking among college students: The statistic that the majority of binge drinker are college students is rather upsetting. What are the reasons for this - and if the impression that binge drinking is increasing accurate - why has binge drinking increased?

Dr. Scott Swartzwelder: But largely there seems to be a focus on drinking to get drunk rather than drinking in a more social way.

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Binge drinking: What are the effects and are they permanent?

Dr. Scott Swartzwelder: The best bet for college students who drink is to do so moderately...the fewer drinks per drinkign occasion, the better.

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Late Adolescent Drinking: My sons are 21 and 22 but emotionally are still (alas) immature. They appear to love drinking, are proud of how much they can drink, have obvious tolerance. They are fully aware of not driving if they have imbibed. Neither has a DUI yet. Any advice about how to limit their drinking? And is this possible? Thanks!

Dr. Scott Swartzwelder: Drinking beer, rather than hard liquor is another strategy that can limit the amount of alcohol consumed.

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binge drinking: Do teenagers face a greater risk than adults?

Dr. Scott Swartzwelder: Too much is not good for anybody, but teens seem to be more at risk for short-term har m as well as long-term consequence.

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Alcohol: Can the brain fully recover from a decade of more of regular drinking to excess , once the drinking has been abandoned? How about with pot usage?

Dr. Scott Swartzwelder:

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dementia and alcohol: My husband is 62 and drinks hard liquor every night. Both his parents were alcoholics. I don't drink. Is he at risk for dementia? His father died at 67 of heart disease. His mother has dementia, is institutionalized. She is still living at 81. I know I'll be my husband's caregiver if he does have a neurological problem. Just wondering if alcohol plays any role in this terrible disease.

Dr. Scott Swartzwelder: But if he drinks more than a couple of drinks per night, I bet he'll feel smarter during the day if he cuts back a bit!

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pot: what are the effects of smoking pot several times a week throughout the high school years on the developing brain? Are there long-term effects of smoking pot and drinking from the teenage through college age years even if a person cuts down once they " grow-out" of this stage?

Dr. Scott Swartzwelder: There are enough red flags about adolescent brain sensitivity to warrant lots of caution.

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Binge drinking and the brain: Do any of your studies address the drinking styles practiced in Europe, where wine or is served to young people in a moderate fashion? And does the abstinence of alcohol until the age of majority create conditions in which binge drinking is more probable?

Dr. Scott Swartzwelder:

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College binge drinking: First of all, does limited (college years) binge drinking cause brain damage? If so, does the brain "heal or repair itself" after college when this binge behavior stops?

Dr. Scott Swartzwelder: It is not clear exactly how much drinking will cause damage during those years, so until we get the answer to that question moderation is probably not a bad approach.

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alcohol consumption after working out: How bad is it to drink right after a work out.. say after swimming or running?

Dr. Scott Swartzwelder: I would avoid alcohol for at least a couple of hours after intensive exercise.

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Drinking and the brain: What about the effect on older brains, say, 60, for example?

Dr. Scott Swartzwelder: But particularly if older folks are startig to have sleep problems or noticing a slip in learning and memory, it is probably wise to limit alcohol intake.

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Buzzzed: Dr - I'm a successful trial lawyer with a thriving practice on both coasts. I am, however, still partying like the fraternity boy I was circa "81. Long term damage to my noggin ? Just ordered your book on Amazon btw.

Dr. Scott Swartzwelder: You might consider going 'independent.'

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neurochemistry: What are the long term changes in neurochemistry resulting from alcohol abuse?

Dr. Scott Swartzwelder: But those related to learning, mood, and addiction risk are strongly affected.

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"Drinking to Black": I have a college junior who attends Central Washington University where the 4Loko incident took place. He told me that this drink is called "black out in a can" and that the goal for many students is to drink to "black." Can you talk about the dangers of blackout drinking to both the drinker and those around them and on the road. What is the science behind it and why do they think they are still in control?

Dr. Scott Swartzwelder:

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Personal experience: Did you engage in binge drinking during periods of your life? Do you drink alcohol now, and if so, how often?

Dr. Scott Swartzwelder: But I always monitored how much I had consumed because I knew of some of the risks (and we didn't even know back then about the sensitivity of the younger brain).

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Alcohol and Mental Health: I drank heavily usually 2-3 nights a week from age 17 to 24. I managed to function well and graduate from college and finish my masters, but my blackouts became more frequent and my mental health began to detoriate. I experienced my first panic attack after a night of drinking and then begin to get more and more (usually after drinking the night before). I no longer drink, but occasionally have panic attacks (albeit much less severe and more controlled). I am convinced that abusing alcohol has helped cause, or allowed, my predisposition to anxiety to manfiest itself. Is there any research on this link? Thank you

Dr. Scott Swartzwelder: It is probably wise for you to avoid alcohol, but if you still have ongoing anxiety problems there are good medicines and behavioral treatments that your doctor can recommend.

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Alcohol and brain connectivity: Since alcohol can deplete thiamine cofactors of enzymes that are crucial for microvascular function (and dysfunction), to what extent does alcohol cause microvascular dysfunction and regional blood flow changes in adolescents who binge drink?

Dr. Scott Swartzwelder: Sounds like a good topic for a dissertation!

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Remedies?: I forgot to add: if you believe youthful binge drinking has a negative long-term effect on the brain, do any remedies exist to improve the conditions?

Dr. Scott Swartzwelder: Good sleep hygiene, exercise, and a brain-healty diet will help.

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binge drinking: we have a 22 year old son in an outpatient detox program and a senior in college. His drinking problems have just come to light in the last 2 months. When talking to him he is coherent most of the time. Every now and then he starts talking about something not based in reality. Is this alcohol psychosis and does this go away after a period of no drinking? He has not been drinking in 2 months (according to the detox program he is currently in).

Dr. Scott Swartzwelder:

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binging brain effects: My nephew is 27,as been binge drinking since college. For the past month,he's had numerous tests(MRI.etc) due to fainting episodes. He has spots on brain, possible damage to myeline cover. How is a diagnosis of binging damage reached? Any advice is appreciated.Thanks

Dr. Scott Swartzwelder:

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Article in praise of binge drinking on "Cougar Town" in the Post: I was appalled by an article in praise of binge drinking on Courtney Cox's TV sit-com "Cougar Town" in the Post. Courtney's character holds a funeral when her 44-ounce favorite drinking glass "dies" (falls off the counter and shatters into smithereens). The adult characters all consume copious quantities without seeming to suffer ill-effects. What can you do to try to educate TV show writers re: the harm such messages send?

Dr. Scott Swartzwelder: Check them out, as they may provide you with ways to get involved as well as with valuable information.

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Latest research: Your book is about ten years old. How has the research over the last ten years changed the information you provide in your book?

Dr. Scott Swartzwelder: You can check one of our websites for periodic updates -- http://dukebrainworks.com/

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Can Binge Drinking Lead to Alcoholism?: I'm a recovering alcoholic (binge drinking division) who didn't become "hooked" until his mid-30's. I tell friends that it took about 15 years of increasingly heavy drinking before I sufficiently "rewired my brain," and became alcohol dependent. Is it possible that this is what happened, or is it just my perception?

Dr. Scott Swartzwelder: Stay tuned...

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I want to know: Heavy binge-drinking sessions were a de facto rite of passage in our Eastern Shore town starting freshman year of high school. I quickly found that I could hold large quantities of alcohol, that I enjoyed its effects and that I could get away with it. Massive weekend drinking sessions continued throughout high school, college and my pre-fatherhood years. Now I drink moderately and rarely, but I worry about any permanent effects consuming large quantities of alcohol at 14-17 might have done. I am educated, intelligent and happy -- but I have problems with motivation and focus and "purpose," and I often wonder if they are related to early alcohol consumption.

Dr. Scott Swartzwelder: I would steer clear of much alcohol use (if any) and advise your children that they may be at enhanced risk, and should think very carefully about whether and how much they drink as they get older.

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Pot versus alcohol: If you know this, how do the effects of pot smoking compare with the effects of binge drinking on brains?

Dr. Scott Swartzwelder: We don't know this yet...but we do know both are more powerful against learning in the adolescent brain compared to the adult brain.


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