In what is being described as a first, an Oregon Science & Health University (OHSU) study has zeroed in on a decrease in brain volume as a result of heavy alcohol use among adolescents and young adults.
Researchers indicated that alcohol use lessened the degree of brain growth at a rate of 0.25 millimeters per year for every gram of alcohol ingested per kilogram of body weight.
What that translates into in human terms is a consumption of four beers every day.
Researchers, who performed their work on monkeys at the Oregon National Primate Research Center at OHSU, said in a press release, “Chronic alcohol self-intoxication reduced the growth rate of brain, cerebral white matter and subcortical thalamus".
One major impact of the study is that it provides more accurate results than those that rely on self-reporting on the part of underage individuals.
The new study was the first to make such pinpoint readings in rhesus monkeys in late adolescence and early adulthood. The study also casts some light on a reduction in the volume of specific brain regions as a result of voluntary ingestion of ethanol.
Previous research has demonstrated that the brain has the ability to recover at least partially once alcohol intake has ceased. At the same time, though, it's unclear whether adolescents and young adults will suffer long-term consequences of damage done while their brains end their growth periods.
Lead author Tatiana Shnitko, Ph.D., a research assistant professor in the Division of Neuroscience at the primate center, said, “This is the age range when the brain is being fine-tuned to fit adult responsibilities. The question is, does alcohol exposure during this age range alter the lifetime learning ability of individuals?”