Binge Drinking as a Teen May Epigenetically Harm the Health of Future Generations

Binge Drinking as a Teen May Epigenetically Harm the Health of Future Generations

Binge drinking as a teenager not only harms your brain and body, but may also epigenetically impact your future children, a new study reports. Excessive drinking in adolescents could turn genes on or off in their offspring’s brain, setting them up for susceptibility to certain diseases.

The study, presented at the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting on Nov. 14, 2016, suggests that repeated episodes of excessive drinking when you’re young can actually put your future children at risk for developing disorders such as anxiety, depression, and various metabolic issues.

“Adolescent binge drinking not only is dangerous to the brain development of teenagers, but also may impact the brains of their children,” said Toni R. Pak, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Cell and Molecular Physiology of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, and senior author of the study.

First author Anna Dorothea Asimes and a team of researchers from Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine found a connection between rats exposed to alcohol and molecular changes to DNA that turn genes on or off in the brains of their offspring.

They focused on the addition or removal of an epigenetic mark known as DNA methylation. Epigenetic mechanisms have the power to switch genes on or off without changing the underlying genetic code, which can influence everything from disease development to behavior.

Their results showed that several genes that were normally on had been turned off, and vice versa. Specifically, they analyzed methylation of genes located in the hypothalamus, a brain region well-known for its association with stress, sleep, emotional activity, and food intake.

According to the CDC, binge drinking occurs when blood alcohol concentration is raised to 0.08 percent, which typically occurs when a woman consumes four or more drinks or when a man consumes five or more drinks, in a two-hour period. Although underage drinking is illegal, those who are 12 to 20 years old drink 11% of all alcohol consumed in the U.S. and more than 90% of this alcohol is consumed in the form of binge drinks.

The rats in the study were administered alcohol in several doses to mimic six binging episodes. Afterwards, they were mated. It is important to note that the female rats were not allowed to consume alcohol during pregnancy.

They found that the offspring of mother rats who engaged in binge-drinking leading up to pregnancy had changes in the DNA methylation status of 159 genes. Offspring of father rats who engaged in binge drinking had changes in the methylation status of 93 genes. Even more, offspring of two binge drinking parents had 244 gene changes.

The research suggests that teenage binge drinking by a mother or father may cause alterations in the neurological health of their children. Although the rat model does not translate perfectly to humans, rats are similar to humans in regards to many functions such as metabolism of alcohol, the function of the hypothalamus, and the pattern and amount of binge drinking, Pak said.

This research further supports the numerous epigenetic studies that have recently shown experiences throughout one’s life may have a significant impact on future generations even prior to conception. Additional studies should attempt to tease out the exact mechanisms of how drinking alcohol in excess as a teenager may epigenetically influence not only one’s own brain functioning, but also the mental abilities of his or her future children.


Source: Pak TR, Asimes AD, et al. Binge alcohol consumption during puberty causes altered DNA methylation in the brain of alcohol-naive offspring. Annual Meeting of the Society for Neurosciences. 2016.

Reference: Loyola University Health System. Teenage Binge Drinking Can Affect Brain Function of Future Offspring. Newswise. 10 Nov 2016. Web.

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About Bailey Kirkpatrick 164 Articles
Bailey Kirkpatrick is a science writer with a background in epigenetics and psychology with a passion for conveying scientific concepts to the wider community. She enjoys speculating about the implications of epigenetics and how it might impact our perception of wellbeing and the development of novel preventative strategies. When she’s not combing through research articles, she also enjoys discovering new foods, taking nighttime strolls, and discussing current events over a barrel-aged sour beer or cold-brewed coffee.


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