Binge drinking causes permanent changes in the brain that lead to alcohol tolerance, researchers have found.
In recent years, there has been an alarming increase in binge drinking in the US, particularly among teenagers and young adults.
Binge drinking alone can kill you in one night, and people with a high alcohol tolerance have to drink more to experience the same effects, meaning they damage their livers more quickly.
In research conducted on fruit flies, researchers at the University of Mississippi found that ethanol, the active ingredient in alcohol, disrupts brain communication, thereby increasing alcohol tolerance.
Recent drinking floods the brain with ethanol, disrupting signals for neurons to fire and slowing the way the brain communicates the feeling of intoxication to the body to increase tolerance, new research has revealed
An average of six people die every day from alcohol poisoning caused by binge drinking.
More than a quarter of all American adults report binge drinking — defined as drinking four or more drinks within a two-hour period — in the past month.
Consuming alcohol this quickly can quickly depress the nervous system, causing heart rate and body temperature to plummet and breathing to slow to a dangerous rate.
Collectively, its symptoms can cause someone to fall into a coma and even die.
While the bender doesn’t change overnight, its effects can be insidious and long-lasting as the liver is repeatedly flooded with alcohol and the brain begins to change in response to booze consumption.
The more often a person does this, the more the brain gets used to the high level of alcohol and builds up a “tolerance” to its effects.
A high alcohol tolerance means that the brain stops sending normal signals to the body that it’s time to call it a night.
Alcohol binds to opioid receptors in the brain and releases a feeling of pleasure. But the more you drink, the more alcohol you need to activate enough of these receptors to get that rush of good feeling, or “buzz.”
Tolerance is one of the cornerstones of addiction.
WHAT IS ALCOHOL TOLERANCE?
The more you drink, the less sensitive your body becomes to alcohol and its effects.
Because it is regularly exposed to alcohol, the liver does not take it and favors the breakdown of the substance by producing more enzymes to do the job.
The brain adapts similarly.
Receptors in the brain respond to the frequent presence of alcohol by establishing a new baseline.
The pleasure receptors that respond to alcohol are overstimulated, so the brain adapts by turning off the receptors to try to restore balance.
As a result, the same amount of alcohol that would make you feel drunk no longer does, and you simply drink more.
Alcohol also has powerful effects on the way synapses in the brain fire and communicate, hence the often slow or strange reactions of drunk people.
However, new research published in the journal eNeuro suggests that the particular effect of heavy drinking on these synaptic firings contributes not only to the immediate symptoms of intoxication, but also to the long-term development of tolerance.
The University of Mississippi team had previously hypothesized and found evidence that ethanol interferes with the gene that produces Unc13 family proteins.
These proteins act as regulators of the release of neurotransmitters that shoot across the gaps between neurons in the brain.
In other words, the more of these proteins are present in the brain, the faster its communication. When there is less Unc13, these connections are delayed.
For their new study, the research team suppressed the gene that codes for these proteins so that it was less active in fruit flies.
The genetically modified flies consumed slightly more ethanol than their control counterparts, but took longer to experience the effects of the substance—like falling asleep.
Meanwhile, the researchers observed a secondary effect on these flies.
The more ethanol these ‘swallow’ flies consumed, the less another chemical called diacylglycerol was released. In turn, it interfered with the release of neurotransmitters, compounding ethanol’s effects on brain communication.
The sedation that “getting drunk” was supposed to produce was even slower to set in and the effects were long-lasting, suggesting that heavy drinking changes the brain in a way that creates a tolerance for alcohol.