The evidence is piling up, suggesting alcohol has a lasting and negative impact on the brain, according to new research published in the journal Cortex.

Excessive alcohol use makes up four percent of the international burden of disease and specifically, binge drinking is becoming a more prominent health issue.

Generally, disorders linked to “alcohol-related brain damage” occur as a result of chronic alcohol misuse and cause notable physical and psychological disabilities in the individual as well as the community.

These signs are hard to detect at early stages, and therefore early treatment and intervention are currently limited.

The current study emphasizes the significant changes in brain function and structure that can be a result of excessive alcohol consumption in young adults.

Functional signs of brain damage from excessive alcohol in young adults include memory and learning loss, as well as deficits in executive functions. These functions are directed by the hippocampus and front structures of the brain, which are not formed completely until the age of 25.

Structural signs of excessive alcohol misuse in young adults are shrinking of the brain, and notable changes to white matter tracts.

The age in which an adolescent first uses alcohol may be the trigger which causes alcohol misuse. The researchers point out, however, that the legal drinking age should not be changed.

In Australia, the age for legal drinking is 18, three years prior to the U.S. Even though there is a difference in age between the two countries for legal drinking, alcohol related problems and age of first use are almost identical.

The authors emphasized the need for early intervention, by recognizing the signs and beginnings of risk drinking behaviors at an early age, while young adults are in early stages of brain development and susceptible to damage.

They concluded:

“In young alcohol misusers, these preventable and potentially reversible deficits may be progressive but if left unresolved such deficits eventually become major contributors to poor outcome (long term) and hamper adherence to treatment. “

Earlier this month, a study released by the CDC revealed that binge drinking among young people, especially women, is dangerous and often unrecognized. The researchers pointed out that this toxic form of drinking can lead to health problems.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald