Binge-drinking teenagers are more likely to have mood disorders such as anxiety and depression in adulthood, research has shown.
Researchers at the Loyola University Health System have found that exposing adolescent rats to binge amounts of alcohol permanently altered the system that produces hormones in response to stress.
This disruption in stress hormones "might lead to behavioral and/or mood disorders in adulthood," researchers reported.
Senior author Toni Pak said while results from animal studies don't directly translate to people, the findings do suggest a mechanism by which teenage binge drinking could cause mental health problems in adulthood.
"Exposing young people to alcohol could permanently disrupt normal connections in the brain that need to be made to ensure healthy adult brain function," said Pak.
The Loyola study examined the long-term effects of alcohol on the production of the stress hormone corticosterone in rats.
In the study, researchers exposed adolescent rats to an 8-day binge drinking pattern: three days of alcohol binging, two days off, then three more days of binging.
On binge days, rats were injected with enough alcohol to raise their blood alcohol concentration to between 0.15 percent and 0.2 percent. A control group of rats received injections of saline.
One month later, when the rats were young adults, they were exposed to one of three regimens: saline injections, a one-time alcohol injection or a binge-pattern of alcohol exposure.
These findings have suggested that alcohol exposure during puberty permanently alters the system by which the brain triggers the body to produce stress hormones.
The findings were revealed at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego.