When college-aged adults binge drink it may hinder the function of their
blood vessels, a small new study finds, possibly setting the stage for later
"Consequences of binge drinking may extend beyond just a bad hangover, and
may actually interfere with the current and future cardiovascular health of
young adults," said Shane Phillips, senior study author and an associate
professor and associate head of the department of physical therapy at the
University of Illinois at Chicago.
More than half of college-student drinkers engage in regular binge-drinking
episodes, according to study background information. A binge-drinking episode is
generally defined as consuming more than four to five alcoholic drinks in a
Young and old affected
Studies on middle-aged and older people have linked binge drinking to a
higher risk of cardiovascular disease, such as stroke, sudden cardiac death and
Other studies have found that binge drinking can lead to hardening of the
arteries, which may be what contributes to the increased risk of cardiovascular
disease, according to the report.
To see the effects of binge drinking on the blood vessels and circulatory
system in young people, the researchers recruited 36 urban college students
between the ages of 18 and 25.
About half the group participated in binge drinking, and the rest were
abstainers - they didn't drink alcohol at all. None of the study volunteers
The researchers found that the binge drinkers showed signs of changes that
could affect their cardiovascular health.
"Repeated episodes of binge drinking in young, healthy adults was associated
with changes in the function of the circulation that impacts blood flow.
Specifically, there was evidence that two main cells types - endothelium and
smooth muscle - that work to control blood flow in the circulation were not
functioning normally," Phillips said.
"These vascular changes may be a precursor for the initiation and progression
of arteriosclerosis [hardening of the arteries] and increased vulnerability to
cardiovascular disease," he added.
You are not invincible
While the study found an association between binge drinking in young adults
and possible increased risk of future heart disease, it did not establish a
The author of an accompanying journal editorial explained the study findings
"The researchers saw a signal for vasoconstriction [when blood vessels
constrict] in the binge drinkers even after they stopped binge drinking, and
were measured three to four days after binge drinking," said Dr Robert Vogel, a
clinical professor of medicine at the University of Colorado, Denver.
"Alcohol is a very complex drug. Your blood pressure goes down while you have
alcohol in your system, but your blood pressure goes up the day after drinking.
We don't understand exactly why that is, but alcohol is often forgotten when
doctors are assessing for [high blood pressure]," Vogel said.
Dr Suzanne Steinbaum, a preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New
York City, said, "Binge drinking is a true public health problem on college
campuses. Even in these young people, binge drinking was associated with changes
to the lining of the arteries associated with heart disease," she noted.
"Perhaps when discussing binge drinking on college campuses, providing this
information on the ramifications of this unhealthy behaviour on arterial health
can help in managing this destructive behavioural choice," she suggested.
For his part, Dr Scott Krakower, an addiction specialist at North Shore-LIJ
Health System in Mineola, NY, said he wasn't surprised that there's a potential
link between college-age binge drinking and cardiovascular disease. The
challenge is getting students to do something about it.
"Most college students do not realise the psychological and medical
implications binge drinking can have, and often believe that they are
invincible," Krakower said.
To learn more about alcohol's effect on the body, visit the US
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.