Binge-drinking students at risk of damaging their brains

Binge-drinking students are permanently damaging their brains’ ability to process information, a new study shows.

Having five or more beers for men, or in excess of four for women, within two hours leads to distinctive changes in brain activity.

Such changes, which can lead to muddled thoughts, are similar to those seen in alcoholics, Portuguese scientists claim. 

The findings are worrying, as the researchers said for many students, this amount of drinking wouldn’t equate to a particularly heavy night.

Binge-drinking students are permanently damaging their brains’ ability to process information, a new study shows

Previous studies found binge drinking was linked to neurocognitive deficits, poor academic performance, and risky sexual behaviour.

While studies have found heavy drinking by alcoholics altered brain activity, there is also evidence that bingeing can change a teenager’s brain too.

The new University of Minho study, based on 80 undergraduates, highlights the damage that can be done by alcohol.

Lead author Dr Eduardo López-Caneda said: ‘A number of studies have assessed the effects of binge drinking in young adults during different tasks involving cognitive processes such as attention or working memory.

‘However, there are hardly any studies assessing if the brains of binge drinkers show differences when they are at rest, and not focused on a task.’


One in four university students drink too much and are harming their job prospects, experts have warned on the back of a new survey.

A poll of 9,000 students, commissioned by Magnet, revealed the pressure to go out boozing often distracts many from their studies.

Thomas Johnston, a final year student at University of Exeter, told the researchers: ‘The drinking culture is immense.

‘I do feel a sense of peer pressure to go out drinking, all too often. Reflecting on it now, I do feel it has somewhat distracted me from my studies.’ 

Government guidelines recommend that both men and women drink no more than 14 units a week – the equivalent of six glasses of wine. 

However, 24 per cent of those quizzed reported excessive drinking habits – deemed as consuming 20 units. 

Two-thirds of these (63 per cent) had no idea what they would be doing after graduating, the research found.

How was the study carried out? 

For the study, the researchers wanted to see if the resting brains of binge-drinking students showed any differences to their non-bingeing peers. 

The students filled in a questionnaire on their drinking habits. Those who had one heavy session in the past month were deemed bingers. 

Electrodes were attached the students’ scalps to assess the electrical activity in various brain regions. 

What did they find? 

Binge drinkers had altered brain activity at rest and showed significantly higher measurements of specific electrical differences in brain regions called the right temporal lobe and bilateral occipital cortex.

They suffered very similar alterations to those of chronic alcoholics, the researchers said in the journal Frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience.

These changes may indicate a decreased ability to respond to external stimuli and potential difficulties in information processing capacity in young binge drinkers.

Alcohol-induced brain damage 

This may represent some of the first signs of alcohol-induced brain damage and suggested their young brains were particularly vulnerable to the effect of alcohol.

Dr López-Caneda added: ‘These features might be down to the particularly harmful effects of alcohol on young brains that are still in development, perhaps by delaying neuromaturational processes.

‘It would be a positive outcome if educational and health institutions used these results to try to reduce alcohol consumption in risky drinkers.’