Repeated exposure to alcohol during the teen years can lead to long-lasting changes in the part of the brain that controls memory and learning, a new study of rats suggests.
The study found adult rats who regularly consumed alcohol while their brain was developing had problems with memory, attention, judgment and learning ability, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The brain changes caused by alcohol exposure appear to increase vulnerability to injury from trauma or disease, the article notes.
The findings appear in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
The researchers say their study suggests the brain of a teen or young adult, which is still developing, is uniquely sensitive to levels of alcohol consistent with binge drinking.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, binge drinking is defined as having five or more drinks in about two hours for men, and four or more drinks for women.
"In the eyes of the law, once people reach the age of 18, they are considered adult, but the brain continues to mature and refine all the way into the mid-20s," lead author Mary-Louise Risher of Duke University said in a news release. "It's important for young people to know that when they drink heavily during this period of development, there could be changes occurring that have a lasting impact on memory and other cognitive functions."