excessive alcohol consumption is bad for you, but 21st birthday boozing binges are associated with having a smaller brain later that week. specifically, less white matter connecting left & right. gulp.  

original article: Hua et al., 2020 (Alcoholism, Clinical And Experimental Research), reported in: The Daily Mail by Stacy Liberatore on 23rd November 2021

this story was in episode 22 #binge #booze #brain #shrink #corpus #callosum

the error bar says

in yet more troubling news for the error bar's share price, the massive over-consumption of alcohol has been linked to immediate brain shrinkage.

the story in the Daily Mail recounts a study of 78 students at the University of Missouri. each one was humanely trapped on campus about 11 days before their 21st birthday. they were tagged, their brain was scanned, then returned to the wild.

two weeks later - several days after massive, alcohol-soaked 21st celebrations - 50 of the wild young students were recaptured, interviewed about their birthday alcohol consumption & scanned again.

the results were, it's fair to say, shocking - the estimated level of alcohol in some students' blood should have been enough to kill them. perhaps the students had exaggerated or forgotten just how much vomiting they had done? taking account of this, the brains of those who drunk more had shrunk, while the brains of the alcohol free remained the same.

the authors focused on the back half of the corpus callosum - an important part of the brain which connects the left & right sides. indeed, the brain as a whole showed a similar, but smaller trend.

does binge drinking shrink the brain?

yes, it seems so.

at first i was skeptical because the main figure in the paper seemed to show data very different from the reported statistics. as an error bar nerd, i can spot a dodgy statistic from a mile away, plus or minus three furlongs. the graphical relationship between the birthday booze binge & changes in brain volume just looked too strong to be true.

but, the methods & analysis in the paper looked good & the authors had provided their raw data freely on the Open Science Framework website. error bar brownie points. so i quickly re-analysed their data & found the same relationship between booze & the brain that they had reported in the text.

in the spirit of Christmas, i emailed the authors about the problem with the figure, they replied quickly & in an error bar exclusive: they are looking into it.

i'll report back if & when there's an update on the graph, but until then, do drink responsibly this Christmas else your brain will shrink.


don't do drugs, kids


The Daily Mail: fact - scientific story reported well