Binge drinking does a lot of things to your body that likely doesn’t outweigh what you may feel while partaking in the act. Past research has shown that as little as two drinks can increase the risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome by more than 30% in some people.
Work events like happy hour can encourage binge-drinking behavior and while it may sound like a time to unwind, Friday’s happy hours can hinder sleep and work due to feeling groggy and tired at the office.
But binge-drinking doesn’t stop there. The health risks are certainly always presented, and while it potentially leads to major heart problems, binge-drinking can also make you emotionally unavailable to others, according to a new study.
People who binge-drink have trouble feeling empathy for others due to the strain binge-drinking has on the brain, new research from the University of Sussex reports.
The study, published in the journal NeuroImage: Clinical in October, claims binge drinker’s brains have to work hard than normal to feel empathy compared to non-binge drinkers, who can provide signs of empathy easier.
Dr. Charlotte Rae from the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex called the findings “surprising.”
“Our data show that binge-drinkers need to work harder to feel empathy for other people in pain. They need to use more resources in terms of higher brain activity than non-binge drinkers,” Rae said in a press release.
Researchers gathered up 71 participants from France and the UK whose brain activity was observed with MRI scanners. The study said that half of the participants classified as binge-drinkers and the rest were not. At the time of the study, the binge-drinking participants were sober. Binge drinkers were identified as people who consume more than 60g of pure alcohol, which equates to about three-quarters of a bottle of wine or two and a half pints of lager consumed at least once over the course of a month, according to releasers. For perspective, about 30% of adults in France and the UK would fall under the binge-drinking criteria.
Participants were presented an image of an injured body part, where they were asked to imagine that the limb was either theirs or other people. They were told to explain how much pain was associated with the image.
This is where empathy played a role. The group of binge-drinking participants had more trouble than the non-binge-drinking group to imagine the pain from a different perspective. The binge-drinking group also displayed “more widespread dysfunction” due to requiring more time to identify body parts and how another person would feel pain.
Professor Theodora Duka from the University of Sussex said that a region of the brain called the Fusiform Body Area showed “hyperactivity in binge-drinkers” when drinkers were shown an experience where empathy would normally be present.
“Our aim with the present study was to examine whether binge drinkers show less empathy and their brains show different responses to non-binge drinkers, when they imagine another person in pain,” Duka said. “Reduced empathy in binge drinkers may facilitate drinking as it can blunt the perception of suffering of self or others during a drinking session. We have shown with this study that dysfunction associated with binge drinking is even more extensive than previously known.”
Added Rae: “What this means in everyday life is that people who binge-drink might struggle to perceive the pain of others as easily as non-binge drinkers do. It’s not that binge drinkers feel less empathy – it’s just that they have to put more brain resource into being able to do so. However, under certain circumstances when resources become limited, binge drinkers may struggle to engage in an empathic response to others.”