The system that produces stress-managing hormones in young rats is easily disrupted with binge doses of alcohol, finds a new study from Loyola University of Chicago. In rats, too much booze caused hormone disruptions and led to “behavioral and/or mood disorders in adulthood,” stated the report.
Rat research doesn’t correspond directly to humans, but the researchers’ goal was to learn how adolescent drinkers become depressed adults.
“Exposing young people to alcohol could permanently disrupt normal connections in the brain that need to be made to ensure healthy adult brain function,” Toni Pak, the study’s senior author, told Science Daily.
To study the long-term effects of binge drinking, the Loyola team put the adolescent rats through an eight-day binge cycle, then repeated the cycle one month later when the rats were young adults.
The stress of binge doses of alcohol six days out of eight wasn’t healthy. When they became adults, the rats that had stayed sober produced a normal amount of the stress hormone corticosterone. But the hard-partying rats had a huge spike in corticosterone when alcohol hit their bloodstreams. The rats’ brains had fundamentally changed to release more hormones.
For humans, the equivalent hormone is cortisol. When it hits the bloodstream, cortisol helps give an energy burst for fight-or-flight response. When cortisol floods the brain for an extended time, it seems to trigger depression and contribute to weight gain, Cushing’s syndrome, fibromyalgia and other nasty conditions.
If the study’s findings translate to humans, young adults who binge drink are altering their still-forming brains and risking mood disorders and stress-related conditions later in life. At the very least, the study discourages sharing drinks with underage rats.
– Emily Goyins