Researchers in Sydney are struggling to find volunteers for a study to determine the effect of binge drinking on the teenage brain, and also to find whether alcohol affects its development.
Professor Lindy Rae, who is leading a team at the Prince of Wales Medical Research Unit at Randwick, says that animal studies have already shown that young rats are more sensitive to alcohol-induced damage than adult rats, with substantial deterioration in the frontal lobe, which underlies planning, impulse control and reasoning.
Her team's objective is to produce the first human evidence of alterations in brain development after binge drinking.
"We know alcohol can affect the brain but we know very little about the short-term and long-term impact bouts of binge drinking have on the brain," the Sydney Morning Herald quoted her as saying.
Lindy has revealed that her study requires to recruit 160 volunteers aged 16 or 17, and is looking to compare an equal number of drinkers and non-drinkers.
However, her team is finding it difficult to recruit so-called "alcohol virgins", particularly as consumption of more than two standard drinks in a person's lifetime exclude them from the study.
According to the researcher, adolescents thinking themselves to be bullet-proof are unlikely to change their behaviour without hard evidence showing them the effect of drinking five or more drinks in a session.
She said that the participants, once selected, will be put through a series of cognitive tests.
Lindy highlights the fact that recent brain imaging studies show the front parts of the brain are the last to mature, which means the earlier a teenager starts drinking, the more likely they are to become addicted or suffer impaired brain function later in life.