I ran across an interesting article while doing a literature search for my research—here’s a link; click on “Article via ScienceDirect” in the page that loads and then scroll down on the subsequent page to read the abstract for the paper. Those not connected to a university network will probably only have access to the abstract (you can try clicking the ‘PDF’ link on the right side of the page for the full text), but that should be sufficient to get the (admittedly rather technical) gist across.
In more normal language, they basically found that when they dosed rats with ethanol for long periods of time, it threw their hormone balance out of whack in a manner consistent with pituitary malfunction (decreased testosterone levels and improperly managed LH and FSH). They observed that the pituitary cells didn’t appear to be dying though, which implies that the damage may not be permanent. However, since the pituitary produces human growth hormone (HGH), which is critical for proper development and has to be carefully regulated, I’d say it’s quite possible that the alcohol-related damage could cause physical maturation problems for those who drink during puberty and adolescence.
An interesting corollary study that could be done in humans would be to examine the relationship between ultimate maximum adult height and alcohol consumption level. There’d probably have to be various control factors introduced (e.g., the height of each individual’s parents in order to adjust for intrinsic genetic differences), but it’d be neat (and informative!) to see any correlation that might show up. A similar experiment could also be done in rats, as long as there’s a similiar hormone produced by the murine pituitary with a similar mode of action (which, since according to this article there’s a receptor for MGH, it’s likely that MGH itself exists); the correlated variables would have to be things that MGH is known to influence (e.g., body girth or body length).
All in all, I draw from this the conclusion that heavy drinking is both a result and a cause of stupidity. :-P