Binge Drinking May Put Young People at Risk for Heart Disease
The college culture, filled with opportunities to experiment within new levels of independence and freedom, can be a place where teens try new things without consideration of the long-term consequences. Teens that finished high school without trying drugs or alcohol may feel new freedom to try them in the college setting.
Complicating the freedom to try new and potentially risky things is the belief held by many teens that they are invincible. In addition, the reality of adulthood, with all its responsibility and health concerns, may seem so far in the future that it is not truly expected to happen.
However, experimentation with alcohol in college has serious potential consequences. Immediate problems, such as injury, risky sexual behaviors and vehicular accidents can occur, as well as the long-term risks of cancer and heart disease.
A new study provides evidence to suggest that one of the long-term effects of binge drinking in college may be a more immediate risk. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have found that binge drinking may negatively impact the function of blood vessels in teens. The effect may contribute to a later development of heart disease.
Senior author Shane Phillips, an associate professor and associate head of the department of physical therapy at the University of Illinois, Chicago, explains that binge drinking may affect both immediate and future cardiovascular health.
The findings appear in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. The background information provided by the researchers indicates that at least half of college students regularly binge drink, defined as consuming at least four drinks within two hours.
It has long been known that alcohol consumption is linked to cardiovascular disease, including strokes and heart attacks. However, it is unclear how alcohol consumption leads to heart problems, both in quantity and the timing of the consumption. For instance, experts do not know whether binge drinking in college is more dangerous than drinking during the early teen years when it comes to heart health.
The researchers sought to answer some of these questions by examining blood vessels and cardiovascular health in 36 college students recruited from urban universities. All of the participants were between the ages of 18 and 25. Half of the participants were regular binge drinkers, while the other half did not drink at all. None of the participants were smokers.
The analysis revealed that binge drinkers exhibit signs of changes to their cardiovascular health. The researchers found evidence that the two main types of cells that control blood flow were not functioning normally in those who regularly binge drink.
Phillips says that the changes observed may indicate a precursor for the hardening of the arteries that can lead to cardiovascular disease. However, the findings do not represent evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship, but simply an association between binge drinking and cardiovascular changes.
The changes were evident in the binge drinkers after drinking, and they continued to persist several days after the binge drinking incident.
The findings may be useful in education strategies implemented on college campuses, to help students make informed decisions related to alcohol consumption. However, despite the multiple short- and long-term risks associated with alcohol consumption, and particularly with binge drinking, college students continue to binge drink.
The findings highlight the serious impact that binge drinking in late teen and early adult years can have on cardiovascular health. Future research may be helpful in pinpointing the cause-and-effect relationship that may exist between college binge drinking and both immediate and long-term cardiovascular health problems.
The risk-taking behaviors of teens may not be tempered by information about the potential risks associated with binge drinking in some cases. For some students, however, the knowledge that their alcohol consumption could lead to serious health problems may help them make responsible drinking decisions.