Evidence from an animal study shows that heavy drinking sessions alter the activity of numerous genes in the brains of offspring.
Scientists gave a group of adolescent male and female rates amounts of alcohol equivalent to six episodes of binge drinking.
Once they had sobered up, the rats were allowed to mate. The researchers examined the brains of their offspring, looking for changes affecting the “on-off” switches of genes with many functions including response to stress, reproduction and food intake.
They found 159 changes in the offspring of binge-drinking mothers, and 93 in those of binge-drinking fathers. When both the mother and father were exposed to binge-drinking, the offspring had 244 genetic switch changes in their brains.
The epigenetic changes could potentially put humans at risk of conditions such as depression, anxiety and metabolic disorders, the researchers claimed.
Lead scientist Dr Toni Pak, from Loyola University in Chicago, said: “Adolescent binge drinking not only is dangerous to the brain development of teenagers, but also may impact the brains of their children.”
The study is the first to show a molecular pathway through which teenage binge drinking by either parent can affect the neurological health of future generations.
While findings from animal research do not necessarily translate to humans, there are significant similarities in the brain functions studied in both species, said Dr Pak.
Rats and humans also metabolised alcohol and responded to binge drinking in much the same way.
The findings were presented at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting in San Diego, California.