NEW YORK, Oct 26 (Reuters) New animal research suggests that teenagers' brains may be better at adapting to certain short-term effects of drinking. But that's not a good thing, researchers say.
In experiments with rats, scientists found that adolescent rodents developed an ''acute tolerance'' to alcohol, quickly recovering from the immediate effects alcohol had on their social behavior, while their adult counterparts remained impaired for a longer stretch.
For rats, social behavior essentially consists of sniffing and play fighting. In human terms, the animals' alcohol-induced impairment was akin to being unable to speak with your drinking buddies.
The teenage rodents, however, quickly regained their social skills. Thirty minutes after being given alcohol, their social behavior appeared normal; in contrast, the adult animals were still unable to interact normally, according to findings published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical&Experimental Research.
Though the findings come from animals, there may well be comparable differences between human teenagers and adults, according to lead study author Dr Elena I Varlinskaya of Binghamton University in Binghamton, New York.
This is concerning, she told Reuters Health, because this acute tolerance to alcohol's effects on social behavior could allow teenagers to drink more. Whereas adults might stop drinking when they feel their social skills slipping away, teenagers may have no such deterrent.
''Teenagers drink primarily to be more social,'' Varlinskaya noted. So if their brains are better able to ''counteract'' the negative effects drinking can have on socializing, they may feel free to binge.
Indeed, the researchers note in their report, the findings might help explain why so many teenagers not only drink, but drink heavily. One recent study found that nearly one third of US high school seniors said they'd binged in the past two weeks.
And although teenagers' brains might counteract some immediate effects of drinking, there's evidence from animal research that they may be more vulnerable to long-term brain damage from alcohol abuse, according to Varlinskaya.
One recent study in rats found that binge-drinking damaged parts of the adolescent brain that were left unharmed in adults.
Varlinskaya said more research is needed to see whether such effects hold true in humans.
REUTERS LL VV0830