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New Research: Binge Drinking Alters Your Genes

Enormous numbers of people are increasingly becoming binge drinkers — defined as consuming five or more drinks in two hours for men, or four or more for women — and researchers are trying to figure out why. To that end, Forbes reports that a new study shows that binge drinking actually alters your DNA, stunting genes in such a way that it makes it harder for you to not drink, in effect making you crave alcohol even more.

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With more than 1 in 8 Americans now classified as alcoholic, this research sheds new light on what must be done to curb not just alcoholism, but binge drinking, even when the binge is only an occasional one. In essence, this condition has become a public health crisis that is too often glossed over, especially when you’re talking about that occasional binge.

One reason for this may be that while alcohol has become easier to access, addiction treatment services have remained hard to reach. Plus, with so much emphasis on avoiding stigmatizing someone with an addiction of any kind, the focus has been more on tolerance than treatment.

It's also likely that socioeconomic and mental health issues are playing a role, as people turn to alcohol and other drugs to essentially self-medicate all sorts of problems.

It’s no surprise that binge drinking damages your DNA, especially in light of other serious issues that alcohol causes with your central nervous system. For example, it slows down the communication between your brain cells. Your limbic system, which controls emotions, is also affected.

Additionally, binge drinking can lead to alcohol poisoning, which can shut down areas of your brain that control basic life-support functions like breathing, heart rate and temperature control. At its most serious, alcohol poisoning can lead to:

• Loss of coordination

• Cold, clammy hands and bluish skin due to hypothermia

• Vomiting repeatedly and/or uncontrollably

• Irregular or slow breathing (less than eight breaths per minute or more than 10 seconds between breaths)

• Seizures

• Confusion, unconsciousness, stupor (conscious but unresponsive) and sometimes coma

Another problem is that many people aren’t aware of just how much alcohol is in the drinks they choose. For example, did you know that a standard drink which generally contains 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol could be any one of the following:

• 12 ounces of beer (5 percent alcohol)

• 8 ounces of malt liquor (7 percent alcohol)

• 5 ounces of wine (12 percent alcohol)

• 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor like gin, rum, vodka and whiskey (40 percent alcohol)

Overall, the effect of alcohol on your body depends on a number of factors, including your gender, weight and genetic makeup. The smaller you are, the more concentrated your blood alcohol level will be compared to a larger person drinking the same amount.

Women, who tend to have more body fat than men, will also tend to be more affected by alcohol, as alcohol is soluble in fat. This is why drinking guidelines are lower for women.

Genes also play a significant role in how your body processes alcohol, which subsequently determines how likely you are to suffer a hangover as well. Enzymes that break down alcohol are determined by genes. If you have slow-metabolizing enzymes, you're more likely to get a hangover when you drink.

The bottom line is even moderate alcohol intake can harm you; when you add in a binge, it could affect your DNA in such a way that it will make it even harder to cut back.

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