It is no surprise that binge drinking is a major problem in college campuses across the U.S. For many undergraduate students, alcohol consumption starts as they enter school before age 20, when the brain is still developing.
Those earning a medical assistant education have likely heard that alcohol inhibits brain cells. But to understand the full picture, binge drinking can cause damage that lasts long after a morning hangover.
In a fascinating attempt to reduce the side effects of excessive alcohol consumption, a team of European scientists developed a chemical that could prevent the physical changes in the brain and minimize the consequences of binge drinking.1
The core of the invention is a compound called ethane-beta-sultam. Researchers from the University of Huddersfield in England classify it as a taurine “pro-drug,” which is an effective form of medication that easily enters the bloodstream before it is processed by the body.1
When ethane-beta-sultam enters the body, it has the ability to reduce brain cell damage and inflammation that typically result from nights of heavy drinking. These symptoms usually lead to decreased memory, and can have long-term damage, especially to teenagers, whose prefrontal cortexes have not yet fully formed.
What alcohol does to the brain
As a depressant, alcohol directly influences brain chemistry by altering levels of neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that transmit the signals throughout the body. The consumption of alcohol increases the inhibitory neurotransmitters such as GAMA (which reduces energy levels) and excitatory neurotransmitters (which would normally increase brain activity).2
Although it seems alcohol is a pick-me-up that animates the drinker, it actually slows down the brain. This is why alcoholic consumption can result in slowed reaction times, blurred vision, slurred speech, difficulty walking and impaired memory.3
Offsetting side effects
The findings of the study published by the Journal of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence found that when ethane-beta-sultam was administered on rats during a “binge drinking” regimen, it reduced the brain cell damage and inflammation.1 Professor Mike Page explained that the brain protects itself by implementing glial cells, or supportive cells in the central nervous system. The body increases these glial cells when exposed to alcohol.
“But a combination of our ethane-beta-sultam given at the same time as the alcohol decreased these levels of glial cells,” Page said in a news release.1 Page also highlighted that the drug has the potential to help in the treatment of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, which are also the result of diminished brain activity.
Among teenagers, alcohol can trigger alterations in the structure of the developing brain, which doesn’t mature until a person is in his or her mid 20s. The beverage impedes the cerebral cortex, central nervous system, frontal lobes and hippocampus, where memories are made.4
The prospect of a drug that curbs the effects of binge drinking comes with a plethora of polarizing issues. Health experts posit that it’s important to avoid treating drugs with drugs; while drinking alcohol is a rampant problem among college-age students, a better alternative to medication treatment might be scaling back one’s intake. Other scientists suggest that the drug could serve as a last resort for those dealing with alcohol abuse.
“But if you accept that alcohol abuse is going to continue, then it might be sensible for society to try and treat it in some way,” Professor Page concluded to the source.
1Huddersfield Scientists Develop Breakthrough Compound Reducing Harmful Side-effects of ‘binge Drinking’ and Offering Potential New Ways to Treat Alzheimer’s and Other Neurological Diseases That Damage the Brain. University of Hudderfield. (2014, November 26). Retrieved November 30, 2014, from http://www.hud.ac.uk/news/2014/november/teamdevelopsdrugtoreduceside-effectsofbingedrinking.php
2DiSalvo, David (2014, October 16). What Alcohol Really Does to Your Brain. Forbes.com. Retrieved November 30, 2014, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2012/10/16/what-alcohol-really-does-to-your-brain/
3ALCOHOL ALERT, ALCOHOL’S DAMAGING EFFECTS ON THE BRAIN. National Institutes of Health. (2004, October). Retrieved November 30, 2014, from http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa63/aa63.htm
4Alcohol and the Developing Brain, Too Smart to Start. Retrieved November 30, 2014, from http://www.toosmarttostart.samhsa.gov/families/facts/brain.aspx