White matter integrity has been found to be compromised in adult alcoholics, but it is unclear when in the course of alcohol exposure white matter abnormalities become apparent. This study assessed microstructural white matter integrity among adolescent binge drinkers with no history of an alcohol use disorder.
We used diffusion tensor imaging to examine fractional anisotropy (FA), a measure of directional coherence of white matter tracts, among teens with (n = 14) and without (n = 14) histories of binge drinking but no history of alcohol use disorder, matched on age, gender, and education.
Binge drinkers had lower FA than controls in 18 white matter areas (clusters ≥27 contiguous voxels, each with p < 0.01) throughout the brain, including the corpus callosum, superior longitudinal fasciculus, corona radiata, internal and external capsules, and commissural, limbic, brainstem, and cortical projection fibers, while exhibiting no areas of higher FA. Among binge drinkers, lower FA in 6 of these regions was linked to significantly greater lifetime hangover symptoms and/or higher estimated peak blood alcohol concentrations.
Binge drinking adolescents demonstrated widespread reductions of FA in major white matter pathways. Although preliminary, these results could indicate that infrequent exposure to large doses of alcohol during youth may compromise white matter fiber coherence.