First sip of alcohol changes brain forever, leads to addiction: study

It only takes one sip.

New findings out of Germany suggest that your very first drink in life can alter your brain forever, causing “permanent cellular changes” and throwing synapses out of wack.

These alcohol-induced changes support the theory that “first alcohol intoxication at an early age is a critical risk factor” for future drinking and addiction, said the University of Cologne’s Dr. Henrike Scholz, who worked with colleagues at the Universities of Mannheim and Heidelberg to publish the report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Friday.

Brain scans of mice that had been intoxicated for the first time showed “lasting changes” in how their neurons communicated even after their binge, particularly by disrupting the flow of energy created by the mitochondria. Similar changes were seen in fruit flies — and both were more likely to go on and increase their alcohol consumption over time, then relapse later in life.

Greater understanding of these mechanisms are crucial to finding the most effective treatment for alcohol addiction and other types of substance abuse, researchers said. Changes that occurred during the study relate to the process of learning and memory and, therefore, the formation of positive associations with drugs.

“Identifying lasting ethanol-dependent changes is an important first step in understanding how acute drinking can turn into chronic alcohol abuse,” said Scholz.

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