Binge-Drinkers Have a Harder Time Feeling Empathy

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.

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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.

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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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