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What Binge Drinking Can Do to a Student's Brain

University students drinking beer at a pub in Cambridge, Massachusetts
University students drinking beer at a pub in Cambridge, Massachusetts

MARIO RITTER: Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.


I'm Mario Ritter. This week on our show, we play music from new albums by Kelly Rowland and Colbie Caillat.

We also read some of your comments.

But, first, we have a report on the effects of binge drinking on the brains of young adults.

Binge Drinking and the Brain


YOUNG ADULTS: “I’ve been drinking since I was eighteen.” “I drank about ten drinks, I’d say.”

MARIO RITTER: New studies are looking at the damage that heavy use of alcohol can cause in young people. Christopher Cruise has our story.

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: The National Institute on Drug Abuse says forty-two percent of young adults in America have taken part in what is known as binge drinking. The experts define that as drinking four to five drinks within about two hours.

Tim McQueeny is a researcher in the Psychology Department at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio. He is studying how binge drinking affects the brains of young people.

TIM MCQUEENY: “The peak years of alcohol use are during the years when the brains are still developing, especially eighteen to twenty-five when substance use, such as binge drinking, is most prevalent.”

Assistant professor Krista Lisdahl Medina is researching the subject with him.

KRISTA LISDAHL MEDINA: “We looked at a very high resolution picture of the brain, where we can actually measure what’s called cortical thickness. So this is a measure of basically how thick their brain matter is.”

The researchers say binge drinking is linked to a loss of thickness in the pre-frontal cortex. They explain the many jobs of this part of the brain.

TIM MCQUEENY: “Regulating somebody’s emotions and controlling behaviors.”

KRISTA LISDAHL MEDINA: “Decision making.”

TIM MCQUEENY: “Controlling attention.”

KRISTA LISDAHL MEDINA: "The ability to inhibit responses.”
TIM MCQUEENY: “Considering consequences.”

KRISTA LISDAHL MEDINA: “Monitoring your environment.”

TIM MCQUEENY: “Acting appropriately.”

KRISTA LISDAHL MEDINA: “And, again, that very important ability to inhibit your impulses to do things.”

A team of American and Canadian scientists is also trying to measure the health effects of binge drinking by students. Dr. Michael Fleming is a researcher at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. He says they studied cases of alcohol-related injuries and blackouts.

MICHAEL FLEMING: “A blackout is a true period of amnesia. It’s a transient acute memory loss that can last from a couple of hours to longer, depending on how much you drank. So we wanted to know whether that put students -- in particular, college students -- at higher risk for injury.”

The research showed that as blackouts increased, so did the rate of physical injuries. Dr. Fleming says one in four students harmed themselves while drinking.

Many colleges and universities around the United States try to educate students about the dangers especially of binge drinking. Amanda Long works with campus alcohol programs at the University of Maryland. She says the programs there begin even before students arrive at the university.

AMANDA LONG: “We start off by asking them to complete a national three-hour long educational program. It is really just a look at alcohol, how it affects students, how it can be a detriment to their progression as a student.”

At some schools around the country, students are required to use online resources like a program called eCHECKUP TO GO. San Diego State University in California administers that program. Doug Van Sickle is the project director.

DOUG VAN SICKLE: “The program gives the student a personalized feedback about their use of alcohol and how it affects goals and aspirations that are important to them. Career and life, relationships, self-esteem, health and fitness, those kinds of things.

The program does not try to scare students with numbers about alcohol-related injuries or deaths. Instead, the students learn things like how much weight they can gain from alcohol and how much money a night of drinking can cost. Doug Van Sickle says this method really works with college students.


MARIO RITTER: This week, instead of answering a question, we are going to read some of your comments posted at

Last week we did a story about chopsticks made in America and sold in China. Orhan Fazhoglu from Istanbul, Turkey, wrote: Most Americans prefer purchasing Chinese goods as they are far cheaper. However, Chinese people are crazy for American brands.

Orhan says it seems Chinese are willing to spend more because of their fast-growing economy. On the other hand: Americans are getting more and more thrifty these days thanks to the economic recession.

Anh Vuong wrote to us from Vietnam about our recent interview with Michael Johnston. He talked about his experience serving in the military in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Michael Johnston
Michael Johnston

Anh writes: Thanks to VOA, I have much experience about the private life of a soldier after returning home. They always get ready to sacrifice themselves to protect their homeland. Wishing the best for them and their family.

We also told you about young Navajo Indians leaving their reservation in search of jobs. Jose Reyes from Mexico wrote that he understood their situation well. I was born in a town with less than five hundred people, so there is not a chance to succeed there. We have to move into larger cities and leave behind our roots for new goals, get your degree and seek a better life. In addition, we try to go farther than our ancestors and parents did.

Merce from Catalonia, Spain, also commented on the story of the young Navajos. I think that the young people of the Navajo reservation, after they graduate, should return home in order to help their community with health and other knowledge, but never leave their culture and language.

And, finally, Joruji from Japan commented on our story about the Goodwill organization’s job training program for immigrants.

There is a similar organization in Japan. It's called "Hello Work," and it helps people seeking jobs, including immigrants. It gives job training and advice on how to write a good resume and have a good job interview. But there are some differences. For instance, it tells immigrants that interviewers are used to bowing, not shaking hands the way Americans do.

You can find all of these stories and post your own comments about our programs at Put "American Mosaic" in the search box at the top of the page.

Kelly Rowland and Colbie Caillat


MARIO RITTER: Two popular singers released albums earlier this month. Kelly Rowland, formerly of Destiny’s Child, came out this week with “Here I Am.” And, Colbie Caillat released “All of You” on July twelfth. Katherine Cole tells about both women and plays some of their music.

Kelly Rowland
Kelly Rowland

KATHERINE COLE: Kelly Rowland is not as well known as a solo artist as is another former member of Destiny’s Child – Beyonce. But, Rowland has won two Grammys and several other major awards since she went on her own in two thousand two.

“Here I Am” is the thirty-year-old recording artist’s third solo album. The single “Commander” was released last year and became a hit. David Guetta produced the song and also performed on it.


Lil Wayne is another featured performer. Here he is with Kelly Rowland singing, “Motivation.”


Colbie Caillat
Colbie Caillat

“All of You” is Colbie Caillat’s third album. Some critics praise her voice and light-hearted style. Others say her music lacks depth. Most seem to agree, however, that she makes good choices about the artists she works with. Here she performs, “Favorite Song,” with the rapper Common.


We leave you Colbie Caillat performing “Dream Life, Life” from her new album “All of You.”


MARIO RITTER: I’m Mario Ritter. Our program was written and produced by Caty Weaver, with reporting by Dione Rossiter. If you have a question about American life, write to Or go to and click on the Contact Us link.

Join us again next week for music and more on AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.