February 25, 2016

New Study Finds Brain Chemistry Altered From a First Drink

Binge drinking at an early age may encourage dangerous habits in the future, according to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Although youth drink less frequently than adults, the practice of binge drinking means that when they do drink, they consume more. Youth consume more than 90 percent of their alcohol during binge-drinking sessions, according to the study.

A research team at the University of California San Francisco, examined whether a single exposure to alcohol, that “first drink,” can induce memory and behavioral changes that could promote future drinking. Their data suggest that the perceived benefits of alcohol are registered and stored in memory from the first encounter.

Much of the attraction of alcohol, cocaine and other widely abused drugs lies in the perceived, euphoric “high” that they induce.

Research has associated this with activation neurons in the dopamine pathways that are related to goal-oriented and reward-based behaviors, and studies have shown that dopamine receptor D1 neurons play a key role in alcohol learning and reinforcement.

“This study expands our current understanding about the neurological changes that accompany initial alcohol exposure, and suggest that similar alterations may underlie the reward-based learning associated with alcohol and other substance abuse,” the study authors wrote.

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