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Study links binge drinking in adolescence to increased risk of anxiety in later life

Scientists have found a possible link between binge drinking during adolescence and increased risk of anxiety in later life.

Scientists have found evidence that indicates that alcohol exposure early in life has lasting effects on the brain and increases the risk of psychological problems in adulthood. Scientists have also found evidence that adolescent binge drinking, even if discontinued, increases the risk for anxiety later in life due to abnormal epigenetic programming. The study is published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

“Epigenetics” refers to chemical changes to DNA, RNA, or specific proteins associated with chromosomes that change the activity of genes without changing the genes themselves. Epigenetic alterations are required for the normal development of the brain, but they can be modified in response to environmental or even social factors, such as alcohol and stress. These kinds of epigenetic alterations have been linked to changes in behavior and disease.

Adolescent rats were exposed to ethanol (a type of alcohol) for two days on and two days off or to the same protocol using saline for 14 days. All rats underwent an assessment for anxiety.

Scientists exposed adolescent rats to a regimen designed to mimic binge drinking. Those rats exhibited anxious behavior later in life, even if the binge drinking regimen stopped in late adolescence and the rats were allowed to mature to adulthood without any further exposure to alcohol.

These rats also had lower levels of a protein called Arc in the amygdala. Arc is important for the normal development of synaptic connections in the brain. Rats with less Arc also had about 40 percent fewer neuronal connections in the amygdala compared with rats that weren’t exposed to alcohol.