Researchers modelling teenage drinking using rats have discovered that a drug used to treat Alzheimer’s can reverse some of the negative effects of consuming alcohol during adolescence.
Academics from Duke University in the US used the rats as a model for teenagers and young adults who binge drink a few times a week.
Once the rats reached adulthood they were given donepezil, which appeared to reduce inflammation in the brain caused by their previous exposure to alcohol and increased their ability to produce new neuron cells.
Scott Swartzwelder, professor of psychiatry at Duke University, said: “Research has begun to show that human adolescents who drink early and consistently across the adolescent years have some deficits in brain function that can affect learning and memory, as well as anxiety and social behaviours.
“The changes can be subtle, but who wants even subtle deficits in their brain function or how they think and feel?”
The study should help to develop understanding of heavy drinking in young adults, he added.
Rats were used in place of young people because of the ethical issues around giving them alcohol.
After four days of treatment with the drug researchers studied the animals’ brains, looking closely at the hippocampus region, which plays a key role in memory.
Prof Swartzwelder said: “It’s obvious that not everyone who drinks during adolescence grows up and completely fails at life.
“You might not notice the deficits in obvious ways every day, but you run the risk of losing your edge.
“Sometimes a small impairment of brain function can have a broad ripple effect in someone’s life.”
The research could help to develop understanding of the cellular mechanisms that make the developing brain vulnerable to substances such as alcohol, he added.