DNA and the College Booze-Fest

Alcohol use is high in young adults between the ages of 18 and 24. According to The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 4 out of 5 college students in the United States drink alcohol regularly. There are over 1,800 alcohol related deaths every year in this age group. Scientists now believe that excessive college aged drinking can lead to irreversible DNA damage which contributes to illnesses later in life.

We already know that drinking alcohol can lead to liver damage and emotional problems such as depression. In addition, free radicals from alcohol consumption affect DNA at the cellular level via a process called “oxidative damage”. Oxidative damage happens to cells when there is an imbalance between the number of free radicals that are already proven to cause cell damage, and the body’s ability to clear those free radicals via antioxidants and other cellular processes.

“Drinking alcohol can lead to an increase in free radicals in the body. One factor that has been suggested as playing a central role in many pathways of alcohol–induced damage, and which has been the focus of much research, is the excessive generation of molecules called free radicals, which can result in a state called oxidative stress.”

However, the effect on the DNA of those free radicals on otherwise healthy, young adult cells has only been studied recently.

When researchers looked at DNA damage from drinking alcohol in college students who often binge drink on the weekends, they found that oxidative damage was over 5 times as likely in those individuals, than in those who did not drink.

The changes may not create much observable change early in life, but over time and especially if drinking continues the health effects are concerning. Oxidative stress leads to premature aging, and has also been linked to cancer and autoimmune disorders.

Drinking alcohol is part of the college experience; however, it doesn’t have to be in excess. Choosing to avoid binge drinking, and reducing the overall number of alcoholic beverages, has health benefits that last a lifetime.

The information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment rendered by a licensed medical professional. It is essential that you discuss with your primary care provider any symptoms or medical problems that you may be experiencing.


Defeng Wu, Ph.D., and Arthur I. Cederbaum, Ph.D. (2004) Alcohol, Oxidative Stress, and Free Radical Damage. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Oxidative damage in young alcohol drinkers: A preliminary study, Adela Rendón-Ramírez, Miriam Cortés-Couto, Abril Bernardette Martínez-Rizo, Saé Muñiz-Hernández, Jesús Bernardino Velázquez-Fernández, published in Alcohol, 30 September 2014 3

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