Binge Drinking Affects Young Adult Immune System

Young adults should watch how much alcohol they drink, because it may affect their immune response.

It is just about guaranteed that many young adults partook in libations to celebrate the holidays, especially on New Year’s Eve. Some may have even become intoxicated from binge drinking.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 6 American adults binge drink about 4 times a month. This is especially true among young adults between the ages of 18 and 34. Aside from the known dangers of drinking — such has car accidents and risk of falls and other traumatic injuries – previous research has also shown that binge drinking can impair the immune system’s ability to fight infections and promote wound-healing. Other studies have also found that binge drinkers are more likely to die from traumatic injuries than non-binge drinkers.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as having a blood alcohol content of 0.08, which is the legal limit for driving. This level is usually achieved after imbibing 4 drinks (for women) and 5 drinks (for men) over the course of 2 hours.

In a study conducted by Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine’s Alcohol Research Program, which was published in the journal Alcohol and co-authored by Elizabeth Kovacs, PhD, each of the 8 male and 8 female participants with a median age of 27 consumed 4 or 5 shots of vodka, enough to meet the definition of binge drinking.

Following intoxication from the shots, a “revved up” immune response was observed in the participants' blood samples taken 20 minutes after peak intoxication. When blood samples were subsequently taken at 2 hours and 5 hours after peak intoxication, the researchers saw a reduction in immune activity compared with when the participants were sober.

The blood sample time intervals are important because they are the times when patients typically arrive in trauma centers seeking treatment for alcohol intoxication-related injuries.

The same group of researchers will conduct a similar study among burn patients, which will compare those who had alcohol in their systems upon arrival and those who had not consumed any alcohol.