Health & Fitness

Binge drinkers have a harder time feeling empathy

A glass of wine may be good for your ticker, but too much alcohol can damage your heart in more metaphorical ways: Researchers at the University of Sussex in England found that excessive alcohol (defined as drinking three-quarters of a bottle of wine) instantly interferes people’s ability to empathize with another person’s pain.

To investigate this, the scientists monitored brain activity in binge drinkers (sober at the time) and non-binge drinkers as they were shown pictures of an injured body part and asked what pain a person with that injury was in. Binge drinkers took longer to respond, found the pain minimal, and the areas of their brain responsible for feelings like empathy lit up on the screen – suggesting that binge drinkers had to work overtime to keep themselves up to introduce someone else’s fear.

Why does binge drinking affect your ability to adjust to other people’s feelings? “During binge drinking, large amounts of alcohol enter the brain in a limited amount of time, followed by a period of non-drinking, as opposed to regular drinking, where a person may consume similar weekly amounts of alcohol, but without the extremes of intoxication and withdrawal”, says study author Dora Duka, MD, Ph.D.

These fluctuations in alcohol levels appear to be causing dysfunction in part of the brain. “The binge drinking pattern appears to poison the brain during both intoxication and withdrawal.”

Bottom line: calm down on the alcohol and practice moderation.

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