Lina Begdache, PhD, RDN, CDN, CNS-S, FANDAssistant ProfessorHealth and Wellness Studies Department GW 15Decker School of NursingBinghamton University

Unhealthy, Binge Behaviors in College Students Disrupts Brain Chemistry Interview with:

Lina Begdache, PhD, RDN, CDN, CNS-S, FANDAssistant ProfessorHealth and Wellness Studies Department GW 15Decker School of NursingBinghamton University

Dr. Begdache

Lina Begdache, PhD, RDN, CDN, CNS-S, FAND
Assistant Professor
Health and Wellness Studies Department GW 15
Decker School of Nursing
Binghamton University What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? 

Response: College students engage in activities such as binge drinking, abuse of ADHD medications as “study drugs” or use of illicit drugs during a critical brain developmental window that supports maturation of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) necessary for emotional control, cognitive functions and regulation of impulsive behaviors. These activities not only affect brain function, thus mental health and cognitive functions, but may dampen brain development with potential long-lasting effects.

As for findings, we were able to identify neurobehavioral patterns that associate with mental wellbeing and mental distress in young adults. Based on evidence from the literature, we constructed conceptual models that describe how one behavior may lead to another until virtuous or vicious cycles set-in. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: The take away message is that adoption of one positive or negative behavior may supports similar caliber behaviors eventually affecting academic performance and mental health in college students or young adults. For instance, college students who choose to lead a healthy lifestyle ( diet and exercise) are more likely to sleep better and abstain from substance abuse. Consequently, their mood is better which supports further a healthy lifestyle and sleep. Engaging in those lifestyle factors supports a normal brain development which supports cognitive functions and better grades. Collectively, these sets of behaviors then promote mood and further a healthy lifestyle which starts a virtuous cycle.

On the other hand,  engaging in substance abuse ( including binge drinking) disrupts normal brain function and changes brain chemistry ( serotonin and dopamine are affected). Consequently, motivation is reduced  and mood is altered , individuals reach out to substance and food that support increase in brain chemicals (typically high sugar and high fat food), which increase inflammation and further disrupts brain chemistry. Unhealthy diet and lifestyle further disrupt sleep, dampen brain maturation ( namely the prefrontal cortex) which lead to poor academic performance, higher risk of mental distress and the need for further substance use to support mood, which start a vicious cycle. Disrupting brain maturity during this critical developmental stage leads to long lasting effects.

The differences in neurobehaviors are reflective of the chemical changes in the brain and potentially of the change in brain function between both groups. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: We based the conceptual models on findings from this study and from previous findings from our laboratory as well as from evidence in the literature. Neuroimaging along with behavioral studies are needed to confirm these findings. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: Based on these findings, it is essential to educate young adults about the collective consequences of how one behavior may lead to others.  Nothing to disclose. 


Lina Begdache et al, Principal component regression of academic performance, substance use and sleep quality in relation to risk of anxiety and depression in young adults, Trends in Neuroscience and Education (2019). DOI: 10.1016/j.tine.2019.03.002

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Last Updated on April 16, 2019 by Marie Benz MD FAAD