A glass of wine may be good for your ticker, but too much booze can damage your heart in a more metaphorical manner: Researchers at the University of Sussex in England found that binge-drinking (defined as drinking three-quarters to a bottle of wine at once) impedes people’s ability to empathize with another person’s pain.
To study this, the scientists monitored brain activity in binge-drinkers (sober at the time) and non-binge-drinkers as they were shown images of an injured body part and asked to rate the pain experienced by a person with this injury. It took binge-drinkers longer to respond, they perceived the pain to be minimal, and the areas of their brains responsible for feelings like empathy lit up on the screen—suggesting binge-drinkers have to work overtime to imagine someone else’s angst.
Why does binge-drinking mess with your ability to tune into other people’s feelings? “During a binge-drinking episode, large amounts of alcohol enter the brain within a limited time period, followed by a period of no drinking—as opposed to regular drinking in which a person might consume similar weekly amounts of alcohol, but without the extremes of intoxication and withdrawal,” says study author Dora Duka, M.D., Ph.D.
Tthese swings in alcohol levels appear to cause dysfunction in part of the brain. “The pattern of binge-drinking seems to poison the brain both during intoxication and during withdrawal.”
Bottom line: Go steady on the booze and practice moderation.
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