For college students, binge drinking could take a heavy toll in the classroom, according to a new study. Researchers at the University of Santiago of Compostela in Spain revealed that students who drank heavily — more than five alcoholic drinks for men and four for women on one occasion — scored lower on a verbal learning test than students who didn’t binge drink.
Researchers say this is due to alcohol’s toxic effect on the hippocampus — the brain region responsible for learning and memory. Previous animal studies have shown that the hippocampus is particularly sensitive to alcohol’s effects, said study researcher Maria Parada.
"Our main finding was a clear association between binge drinking and a lower ability to learn new verbal information in healthy college students, even after controlling for other possible confounding variables such as intellectual levels, history of neurological or psychopathological disorders, other drug use, or family history of alcoholism," Parada added.
The study was published online in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. Binge drinking, long known as a cause of liver damage, is also linked to heart disease, according to a ten-year study in Northern Ireland and France published last year by the British Medical Journal.
Also, when it comes to heavy boozing, men and women are not created equal. Health website MyHealthNewsDaily reported last year that drinking can take a heavier toll on women’s health because men and women metabolise alcohol differently. Women have more body fat and less water in their systems than men do, as well as lower levels of an enzyme important in the breakdown of alcohol, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) in the US. This means they experience the effects of drinking more quickly and for a longer time than men. For women, excessive drinking can lead to a host of health problems, from liver and brain damage to heart disease and breast cancer.
What is a safe level of drinking? The NIAAA cites that for most adults, drinking up to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women causes few if any problems. (One drink equals one 12-ounce bottle of beer, or one 5-ounce glass of wine.)