Binge drinking


The effect of binge drinking on the teenage brain


In adolescence, the brain undergoes active rewiring of circuitry that is necessary for successful development of ‘adult’ adaptive patterns of behaviour and cognitive functioning, with particular focus on the frontal lobe and its connections. Prof Lindy Rae is examining this connectivity in the brains of binge drinkers and comparing these ‘tracts’ to those from control (abstaining) participants. We are also studying the size of brain regions known to be affected by alcohol, such as the hippocampus, to see whether brain structure is altered by binge drinking.

We are using questionnaires, cognitive testing and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look for changes in structure and connectivity as well as chemical differences in the brain.

Alcohol is thought to induce a state where the glutamate system – the major excitatory system in the brain – becomes unbalanced. We have found significant elevations in frontal lobe glutamate in boys who binge drink. Binge drinkers showed impaired neuro-cognitive function, with significantly slower responses and greater errors on the tests of inhibition and poorer emotional face recognition compared to non-drinkers. These changes were positively correlated with binge drinking episodes and alcohol consumption.

We are recruiting the final 12 participants

Neuroscience Research Australia and The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the The University of New South Wales are conducting a study on the adolescent brain. We are looking for 16- and 17-year-olds who either drink alcohol regularly or do not drink alcohol at all to help us understand more about the brain during adolescence. Participation involves questionnaires/tests and a brain MRI (reimbursement: $95).
For more information, email Dr Lucette Cysique:


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Abdominal muscle stimulation to improve bowel function in spinal cord injury

Bowel complications, resulting from impaired bowel function, are common for people living with a spinal cord injury (SCI). As a result, people with a SCI have high rates of bowel related illness, even compared with those with other neurological disorders. This includes high rates of abdominal pain, constipation, faecal incontinence and bloating. These problems lower the quality of life of people with a SCI and place a financial burden on the health system. A treatment that improves bowel function for people with a SCI should reduce illness, improve quality of life and lead to a large cost saving for health care providers. Bowel problems have traditionally been managed with manual and pharmacological interventions, such as digital rectal stimulation, enemas, and suppositories. These solutions are usually only partially effective, highlighting the need for improved interventions. The abdominal muscles are one of the major muscle groups used during defecation. Training the abdominal muscles should improve bowel function by increasing abdominal pressure. During our previous Abdominal FES research with people with a SCI, we observed that Abdominal FES appeared to lead to more consistent and effective bowel motion. However, this evidence remains anecdotal. As such, we are going to undertake a large randomised controlled trial to investigate the effectiveness of Abdominal FES to improve the bowel function of people with a SCI. This study will make use of a novel measurement system (SmartPill, Medtronic) that can be swallowed to measure whole gut and colonic transit time. We will also assess whether Abdominal FES can change constipation-related quality of life and the use of laxatives and manual procedures, as well as the frequency of defecation and the time taken. A positive outcome from this study is likely to lead to the rapid clinical translation of this technology for people living with a SCI.