Monkeys can’t take their booze

and neither can adolescents…


New Scientist reports in an article Binge Drinking Rots Teenage Brains that if you binge drink as a teen, your stem cells are going to die and you will have lasting damage to your spatial and memory thought functions (space and damn what was I saying?)

They found this out after feeding adolescent monkeys alcohol daily over 11 months and then doing an autopsy on their brains 2 months later.

Is doing an autopsy after 2 months really proof of lasting damage?
I would say no – but hey maybe I am wrong

In this article this research:
…. reinforces the rationale for anti-alcohol policies in the US and elsewhere which aim to raise the age at with people start to drink.

First of all I am not advocating youthful (or any) binge drinking… but this is not really a good direct link… The damage may or may not be lasting from tippling human teens BUT from this article it isn’t clear to me that your brain won’t recover and that the damage is truly lasting. They didn’t give the little monkeys time to shake it off and see how they grew into adulthood

Using these kind of studies to support why kid’s shouldn’t drink, doesn’t work. It never has, its like Nancy Reagan’s just say No campaign – that didn’t work either.

Or the
This is your brain on drugs add in the US from the late 1980’s…
brain on drugs

this doesn’t work either –
Why doesn’t it work?

Because usually these kinds of campaigns are either based on some kind of psuedoscience or on faulty scientific reporting. Or worse, as in the present case, it’s based on exaggerating some real scientific results, making them appear to have a much stronger causal link than they actually do.

Its not that I think you shouldn’t campaign against the use of drugs in teens or anyone else for that matter, but at least try to be more realistic about it, and don’t use scientific tactics unless they are reasonably presented. This not only doesn’t help anyone stop binge drinking but it gives scientific evidence a bad name.

Science reported in this fear-mongering kind of way can come back and bite you in the face. Why? Because its over-egging the pudding. And people aren’t stupid – when they find out it isn’t necessarily or completely true, then its easy to reject the scientific bases altogether.

Its easy for people to distrust what scientists say or rather what is reported that scientists say, when there are over-arching conclusions about why something is bad for you. And it doesn’t help to increase scientific literacy, or help stop binge drinking in teenagers or monkeys for that matter.

About Sylvia McLain

Girl, Interrupting aka Dr. Sylvia McLain used to be an academic, but now is trying to figure out what's next. She is also a proto-science writer, armchair philosopher, amateur plumber and wanna-be film-critic. You can follow her on Twitter @DrSylviaMcLain and Instagram @sylviaellenmclain
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4 Responses to Monkeys can’t take their booze

  1. Akkie Bardoel says:

    Sad for the monkeys to be killed in that way. I suppose they were looking for one specific thing. The long-term data may come in a followup study that will take years to complete.
    On the subject of teen drinking in general, I think the US has it right, to forbid public drinking until age 21. In Canada it is 19 and the evidence on college campuses points to serious abuse, especially during Fall homecomings.
    Long-term excessive drinking definitely damages the brain. I have seen it in people I have known.
    I would be happy if every form of alcohol was taken off the market, except wine and beer.

  2. Jesso says:

    The other reason things like “Just Say No” don’t work is that nothing is more likely to cause an up-tick in drug use than finding out you’ll be more like Nancy Reagan if you abstain.

    Slightly off topic: I would totally go see a band called Binge-Drinking Monkeys.

  3. Teresa says:

    Complicated issues you mix together here. First, the science. If drinking as a teen really does kill the STEM CELLS of the brain, then it is serious bad news for longer than 2 months. Certainly we need more research about exactly what happens with stem cells, and a lot more monkeys will probably get killed in the process of finding out. It is worth realizing that until just a couple years ago they told us that we don’t generate new brain cells as adults–and that has been proven distinctly untrue. They’ve also demonstrated a positive link between high intensity exercise and the proliferation of brain cells. This is all good news–ways in which we might be able to make up for whatever damages we have incurred through life.

    As for the governmental compulsion of youth to not drink around certain ages, it is pretty much useless. Sure, a few kids might get drunk less often because of a law preventing them from purchasing booze. But the ones that are determined to drink are definitely going to so regardless of the law. I would like to find ways that we can use government and other influences on society to reduce the desperation and depression felt by young people these days….a much more complicated issue, but closer to the cause of the drinking. If we weren’t miserable, we wouldn’t be trying to escape or kill the pain so much, at any age. Our society is bent on self-medicating, and I think it has to do with the lack of loving community/family and meaningful productive work.

  4. Claire says:

    I also think these ad campaigns and hyperbole (and I’ve said a MILLION TIMES I hate hyperbole)do absolutely nothing to dissuade teens. If the little buggers have no concept of consequences until the early 20s as some studies suggest, how on earth do they expect them to hear this evidence and see those ads and have any concept that it might apply to them?

    As for prohibition in general. Yeah, that works. Remember when we used to have a drug trade? Thank goodness for the regulation of narcotics and “illicit” drugs, because otherwise we might have them on the streets where young people could get hold of them. We should also take cigarettes off the market, because it damages the lungs. Oh, and cars. People have accidents in them. Some fatal. We should ban them.

    As for me, it’s cocktail time.

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