Teenage Binge Drinking Can Lead to Anxiety Later in Life
Tue, April 20, 2021

Teenage Binge Drinking Can Lead to Anxiety Later in Life

Binge drinking during the teenage years can lead to anxiety disorder in adulthood / Photo by: milias1987 via Shutterstock

 

Binge drinking during the teenage years can lead to anxiety disorder in adulthood. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in six adults in the United States binge drinks about four times in a month and ends up consuming seven drinks or more per binge drinking session. This has resulted in 17 million total binge drinks consumed by adults every year. More importantly, binge drinking is also most common among younger people and most binge drinkers start at a very young age—less than 18 years old. 

 

What Is Binge Drinking?

It is the most common and sometimes fatal pattern of excessive alcohol consumption. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has defined binge drinking as the pattern of consuming alcohol that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 grams percent and above. In other words, it happens when men consume five or more drinks and when women drink four or more glasses in just two hours. This pattern of behavior can lead people to become alcohol dependent. 

Connection of Alcohol and Anxiety

Anxiety is a very common feeling for a lot of people, but it becomes debilitating once it prevents a person to complete their daily tasks and routine. People often feel anxious when they are faced with a problem or a stressful situation. While most get over this feeling on their own, some cannot cope with the problem and their anxiety lasts for more than a day. 

It is common for people with anxiety to resort to alcohol consumption to relieve themselves from the symptoms because alcohol has a sedative effect and makes them feel more relaxed, according to the American Addiction Center. However, using alcohol as a coping mechanism against anxiety is a very dangerous practice because it can lead to alcohol dependency. 

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reported that 20% of people dealing with social anxiety disorder also suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence. Even though alcohol can reduce anxiety, it’s only temporary, and it can even increase anxiety in just a few hours after consumption. 

Anxiety is a very common feeling for a lot of people, but it becomes debilitating once it prevents a person to complete their daily tasks and routine / Photo by: lightpoet via Shutterstock

 

Exposure to High Levels of Alcohol Can Lead to Anxiety

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago claimed that intermittent exposure to high levels of alcohol during adolescence can lead to increased levels of microRNA-137, which is a molecule that regulates gene expression in cells of adult brains. Their study was published in the eNEURO journal. 

The team reported that blocking the microRNA-137 in adults can definitely help reduce the lasting effects of binge drinking during teenage years in their animal models during their research, and it can also reduce the chances of increased alcohol use that can lead to anxiety. According to Subhash Pandey, professor of psychiatry and director of the UIC Center for Alcohol Research in Epigenetics, microRNA-137 is a very important component for the development of a normal healthy brain but when young brains are exposed to high levels of alcohol, which can happen during binge drinking sessions, the microRNA-137 molecular structure can be altered that can essentially rewire the brain. 

Pandey added that this change at the molecular level is not a defect but is an alteration that is caused by environmental and social factors or exposures, according to Science Daily, a human behavior, neuroscience, and psychology news website. 

It is common for people with anxiety to resort to alcohol consumption to relieve themselves from the symptoms because alcohol has a sedative effect and makes them feel more relaxed / Photo by: B-D-S Piotr Marcinski via Shutterstock

 

In their experiment, Pandey and his team mimicked the human adolescent binge drinking pattern and behavior in young rodents by exposing them to alcohol in cycles—two days of alcohol exposure followed by two days of withdrawal. The researchers repeated this experiment eight times and then when the rodents grew into adults, their brains and behavior were analyzed. 

The results showed that the rodents that were exposed to alcohol during their early years were more likely to exhibit signs of anxiety. The altered levels of microRNA-137 also correlated to the change of levels of a gene called LSD1. This study built upon the previous research also from the University of Chicago’s Center for Alcohol Research in Epigenetics that claimed that epigenetic changes in the cellular level because of alcohol consumption can result in the limitation of the brain’s ability during the developmental years to form the connections it needs until it matures. 

Pandey concluded that adolescent binge drinking has long-term epigenetic effects in the brain, and understanding this phenomenon can help specialists and researchers to explain how to potentially undo the damage and reverse its anxiety-inducing effects.

Binge drinking and anxiety come hand in hand, often one after the other. Most people with anxiety drink to relieve their symptoms but they are not aware that this temporary relief can ruin their brain at a molecular level in the long run. Hence, it is very important to help those people with anxiety to have a healthier coping mechanism and perhaps even get treated by a professional using therapy and proper medication.