Introduction: Adolescence and young adulthood are periods of continued biological and psychosocial maturation. Thus, there may be deleterious effects of consuming large quantities of alcohol on neural development and associated cognition during this time. The purpose of this mini review is to highlight neuroimaging research that has specifically examined the effects of binge and heavy drinking on adolescent and young adult brain structure and function.

Methods: We review cross-sectional and longitudinal studies of young binge and heavy drinkers that have examined brain structure (e.g., gray and white matter volume, cortical thickness, white matter microstructure) and investigated brain response using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Results: Binge and heavy-drinking adolescents and young adults have systematically thinner and lower volume in prefrontal cortex and cerebellar regions, and attenuated white matter development. They also show elevated brain activity in fronto-parietal regions during working memory, verbal learning, and inhibitory control tasks. In response to alcohol cues, relative to controls or light-drinking individuals, binge and heavy drinkers show increased neural response mainly in mesocorticolimbic regions, including the striatum, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), hippocampus, and amygdala. Mixed findings are present in risky decision-making tasks, which could be due to large variation in task design and analysis.

Conclusions: These findings suggest altered neural structure and activity in binge and heavy-drinking youth may be related to the neurotoxic effects of consuming alcohol in large quantities during a highly plastic neurodevelopmental period, which could result in neural reorganization, and increased risk for developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Published in Drinking Patterns

AIMS: Alcohol intoxication is a source of significant illness and injury commonly resulting in emergency department (ED) visits. We characterize recent trends in alcohol-related visits to US EDs using nationally representative data.

METHODS: We conducted a retrospective review of data on national ED visits among patients aged 18 years or older with alcohol intoxication between 2001 and 2011 using the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS). Demographic and resource utilization trends in alcohol-related visits were examined. We also assessed ED length of stay (LOS) across the study period, as well as the total hours spent on ED care for alcohol-related complaints.

RESULTS: Between 2001-2002 and 2010-2011, alcohol-related visits increased from 2,459,748 to 3,856,346 (P = 0.049). Utilization of resources such as laboratory tests, medications and radiography increased, with the use of advanced imaging (i.e. computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging) increasing 232.2% (P < 0.001) from 2001-2002 to 2010-2011. Overall LOS increased 16.1% (P = 0.028), while LOS among patients admitted to the hospital increased 24.9% (P = 0.076). Total alcohol-related hours spent in EDs nationwide increased from 5.6 million in 2001 to 11.6 million in 2011, an increase of 108.5% (P < 0.001) compared with an increase in overall ED hours of 54.0% (P < 0.001).

CONCLUSION: Alcohol-related ED visits are increasing at a greater rate than overall ED visits and represent a growing burden on hospital resources.

BACKGROUND: Studies of older persons show consumption of light-to-moderate amounts of alcohol is positively associated with cognitive function and, separately, is negatively associated with total brain volume (TBV). This is paradoxical as generally, cognitive function is positively associated with TBV. We examined the relationships of TBV, global cognitive function (GCF), and alcohol consumption in a population-based cohort of 3,363 men and women (b. 1907-1935) participating in the Age Gene/Environment Susceptibility-Reykjavik Study (2002-2006) and who were free of dementia or mild cognitive impairment

METHODS: Drinking status (never, former, and current) and current amount of alcohol consumed were assessed by questionnaire. GCF is a composite score derived from a battery of cognitive tests. TBV, standardized to head size, is estimated quantitatively from brain magnetic resonance imaging.

RESULTS: Among women and not men, adjusting for demographic and cardiovascular risk factors, current drinkers had significantly higher GCF scores than abstainers and former drinkers (p < .0001); and GCF was associated with amount consumed. TBV was not associated with drinking status or amount consumed in men or women. GCF and TBV did significantly differ in their associations across alcohol categories (p interaction < .001). Within categories of alcohol intake, GCF and TBV were positively associated.

CONCLUSIONS: The difference in associations of alcohol intake to brain structure and function suggests there may be unmeasured factors that contribute to maintaining better GCF relative to TBV. However, at higher levels of reasonable alcohol consumption, there may be factors leading to reduced brain volume.

Published in Dementia




Aims: Although it is known that alcohol has vasoactive properties, previous studies have not investigated the relationship between cerebral blood flow (CBF) and cerebral blood volume (CBV) after alcohol consumption. The aim of this study was to investigate effects of alcohol on CBF and CBV, both globally and regionally, in social drinkers. Methods: The method of choice was dynamic susceptibility contrast magnetic resonance imaging (DSC-MRI). Eight males were scanned twice on two separate days; once after consumption of alcohol (blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08%) and once sober. Results: The results showed an average increase of CBF after alcohol consumption, both in grey matter (GM) and in white matter (WM), with a CBF(BAC of 0.08%)/CBF(baseline) ratio of 1.2. Regional increases in CBF were seen in areas close to where the large brain-feeding blood vessels enter the brain, in the thalamus region and in the frontal brain regions. The lowest CBF changes were seen in the occipital brain regions. There was also an increase in CBV after alcohol consumption, in particular across WM regions. Conclusion: In conclusion, a BAC of 0.08% causes both an average increase in global and regional CBF. There was stronger correlation between alcohol-induced changes in CBF and CBV in WM than in GM, suggesting the vasculature in the WM to be relatively more affected than the GM. Simultaneous measurements of CBF and CBV after acute alcohol intoxication in social drinkers are important in basic human neuroscience research to elucidate and understand brain physiology in the presence of exogenous neuro-pharmaceutical manipulations.




Published in General Health


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