Booze & the Student Brain

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Researchers from the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) have been studying the effects of early life binge drinking. They’ve concluded that gene editing may be a potential treatment for alcohol abuse by teens.

“Early binge drinking can have long-lasting and significant effects on the brain, and the results of this study offer evidence that gene editing is a potential antidote to these effects, offering a kind of factory reset for the brain, if you will,” said study senior author Subhash Pandey, the Joseph A. Flaherty Endowed Professor of Psychiatry and director of the Center for Alcohol Research in Epigenetics at UIC.

In an article in TCU 360‘s Siena Dancsecs wrote:

Alcohol consumption, including binge drinking, has increased since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Boston University. In 2020, alcohol consumption was up 14% from 2019. Lockdowns also significantly increased alcohol sales.

Boston University‘s Alumni magazine Bostonia published an article about youth alcohol consumption:

For many public health researchers striving to prevent excessive alcohol use in adults, step one is stopping them from drinking as kids. Alcohol is the most widely used substance among youth—more than tobacco and marijuana. About 25 percent of 14-to-15-year-olds have had at least one drink, while 11 percent of teenagers admit to binge drinking, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Youth alcohol use is also a solid predictor of substance use disorders in later life.

Ohio University has a mandatory program for new students dealing with potential alcohol use by its under-aged students:

To aid students in their decision-making, the University requires all new students at Ohio University to successfully complete a 2 ½ hour online alcohol education course called “AlcoholEdu for College.” This nationally-distributed program is interactive and employs cutting edge technology, and is intended to challenge students’ expectations around alcohol while enabling them to make healthier and safer decisions. It does not assume that a student drinks.

The University of Alabama‘s online program “Under The Influence” is intended to encourage “students to identify ways to make more responsible choices to avoid the negative consequences of alcohol.”

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism‘s (NCAAA) published a fact sheet on college drinking. The NCAAA states:

Drinking at college has become a ritual that students often see as an integral part of their higher education experience. Some students come to college with established drinking habits, and the college environment can lead to a problem.

Drinking by students at the University of Alabama was the subject of a post “The Greek God Pan at the U of A” by the Franklin Stove Blog on April 21, 2022. The centrality of alcohol consumption in the University’s social life is not atypical:

Drinking during the pandemic may have led to more deaths than Covid-19. At colleges throughout the nation, in spite of any of the pandemic’s restrictions on “normal” college life, drinking remained a fixture of college living.

A “factory reset” for the brain with gene editing, as proposed in the UIC study, may someday be a reality. Until then, programs that encourage better student choices on alcohol consumption may continue to be an ineffective, but necessary, last ditch stand.


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