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How Does Alcohol Affect The Teenage Brain

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How Does Alcohol Affect The Teenage Brain – Alcohol consumption among adolescents can cause irreversible brain damage. For teens, the effects of a night of drinking can linger long after the hangover has gone. A recent study finds damaged nerve tissue in the brains of adolescents who drink heavily and poorer performance on tests of thinking and memory.

The red dots highlight areas where the integrity of the brain’s white matter is significantly lower in adolescents who drink excessively, compared to those who do not. Courtesy of Susan Tapert/Tim McQueeny, UCSD hide caption

How Does Alcohol Affect The Teenage Brain

The red dots highlight areas where the integrity of the brain’s white matter is significantly lower in adolescents who drink excessively, compared to those who do not.

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A recent study led by neuroscientist Susan Tapert of the University of California, San Diego, compared the brain scans of teens who drink heavily with those of teens who don’t.

Tapert’s team discovered damaged nerve tissue in the brains of adolescents who drink. Researchers believe this damage negatively affects boys’ attention span and girls’ ability to understand and interpret visual information.

“First of all, the adolescent brain is still undergoing many maturation processes that make it more vulnerable to certain effects of substances,” explains Tapert.

In other words, key areas of the brain are still under construction during adolescence and are more sensitive to the toxic effects of drugs and alcohol.

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Brain damage caused by a teenage drinker, view from above, courtesy of Susan Tapert/Tim McQueeny, UCSD hide caption

Tapert has taken care of young people aged 12 to 14 before they use alcohol or drugs. Over time, some children began drinking, some quite heavily – consuming four or five drinks per occasion, two or three times a month – classic adolescent binge drinking behavior.

Comparing young people who drank heavily with those who did not remain heavy drinkers, Tapert’s team found that heavy drinkers performed worse on tests of thinking and memory. There was also a clear gender difference.

“Girls who drank heavily as teenagers appear to perform worse on tests of spatial functioning, which relate to math and engineering types of tasks,” says Tapert.

Alcohol & Teens

“For boys who engaged in binge drinking during adolescence, we see poor performance on tests of attention, so the ability to concentrate on something that might be a little boring, for an extended period of time.” , explains Tapert. “The magnitude of the difference is 10 percent. I like to think of it as the difference between an A and a B.”

Pediatrician and brain researcher Ron Dahl of the University of Pittsburgh notes that adolescents appear to have a greater tolerance for the immediate negative effects of binge eating, such as nausea and nausea.

“This makes it easier to consume larger quantities and enjoy some positive aspects,” says Dahl. “But, of course, this also creates a risk of a spiral of dependence and excessive consumption of these substances.”

He adds that there is a unique characteristic of the adolescent brain that determines many behaviors during adolescence: the adolescent brain is primed and ready for intense, all-consuming learning.

The Adolescent Brain

“Becoming passionate about a particular activity, a particular sport, becoming passionate about literature or changing the world or a particular religion” is a normal and predictable part of a teenager’s life, he says.

“But these same tendencies to explore and try new things and try on new identities can also increase the likelihood of going down negative paths,” he adds.

Tapert wanted to find out how excessive drinking affects adolescent brain development. Then, using brain imaging, he focused on the white matter, or nervous tissue, of the brain.

“White matter is very important for transmitting information between brain cells; and we know that it continues to develop during adolescence,” explains Tapert.

Effects Of Alcohol On The Teenage Brain

So Tapert imaged the brains of two groups of high school students: heavy drinkers and a group of teenagers with no history of heavy drinking. She reports in her recent study a marked difference in the white matter of excessive drinkers.

“They appear to have a number of small scratches in the white matter of their brains, which indicates poor quality,” says Tapert.

“These results really surprised me, because the children who drank did not, in fact, engage in large amounts of binge drinking. They drank on average once or twice a month, but when they did drink, it was at a lower rate. a relatively high quantity of at least four or five drinks on occasion,” he says.

In another study, Tapert reported abnormal functioning of the hippocampus – a key area for memory formation – in adolescent heavy drinkers. Reflecting their abnormal brain scans, the teenage drinkers were less successful at learning verbal material than their non-drinking counterparts.

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Under the influence of large amounts of alcohol, adolescents make poor decisions. Sexual violence is a major problem.

The good news first: more teenagers – at least in Australia – are abstaining from alcohol than 20 years ago. This could be due to the country’s changing ethnic and cultural mix as our diversity increases. And fewer teenagers are regularly beaten because of alcohol than 20 years ago. Now the bad news in the good news: there is a group of diehards who also drink too much. And, compared to 20 years ago, this small group of problem drinkers starts earlier and drinks more than the hardcore crowd did 20 years ago.

From Australian research, we know that initially boys and girls drink about the same amount, but as adolescents get older, boys start to drink significantly more than girls.

Under the influence of large amounts of alcohol, adolescents make poor decisions. Sexual violence is a major problem. At least a quarter of American women have been victims of sexual assault, including rape. And half of those cases involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, the victim, or both. As a parent, this is probably one of your worst nightmares.

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Under the influence of alcohol, our teenagers are more likely to have casual sex. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, young people are more likely to have consensual sex after drinking, but they also report that they “do more” sexually after drinking than they expected. None of this may be a problem, but it does increase the risk of contracting an STI or unplanned pregnancy if they don’t use a condom. Which they do less often when it comes to alcohol.

When drunk, teens are more likely to commit and be victims of juvenile violence. Being drunk reduces self-control, impulse control, and the ability to assess risk while simultaneously increasing emotions. Additionally, they fail to understand and respond to a situation, making some Southern drinkers easy targets for abusers. Drunk teens are also more likely to commit vandals and damage property.

Young drunks are more likely to get into a car accident, even in countries with drunk driving laws. The risk of an accident while driving after drinking is higher among young people than among adults, regardless of their blood alcohol level, partly because they are less experienced drivers.

They are also more prone to accidents, such as burns and falls, as well as drowning. In fact, Australian research found that among high-risk drinkers aged 14 to 19, 83 percent had been harmed by their drinking in the past 12 months and seven percent had surrendered to the emergency room for an alcohol-related injury. .

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Being drunk and being in front of a screen is a bad combination. People who post while drunk post more inappropriate content. From naked photos, to revealing a friend’s secrets, to publicizing one’s own drunkenness, to trolling. This is never wise!

The long-term consequences of adolescent drinking are also very dire. Although “kids will be kids” and doing risky things is certainly something teenagers do, and many, many of those teens who drink heavily will “mature” from drinking over time. time, this is not always the case. “Substance use” in high school is one of the strongest indicators of substance abuse in adulthood. In fact, rates of risky drinking in twelfth grade are quite good indicators of alcohol use and dependence at age 35 and college dropout in the United States.

Alcohol causes brain damage. Long-term alcoholics exhibit a well-documented range of brain impacts. But even so-called binge drinking increases damage to brain cells, particularly in the frontal and prefrontal cortex (critical for cognitive skills, what we call “executive function,” which is planning and organization, personality expression, decision-making and social relationships). behavior) and the hippocampus (central element of learning and memory). As the adolescent brain develops rapidly, it is particularly prone to damage from alcohol, which can have major long-term effects. The adolescent brain appears to be particularly prone to frontal cortical lesions, particularly in the presence of certain genetic factors. And the effects appear to be more pronounced in children than in boys. It could therefore be that girls’ brains are more vulnerable to the harm of alcohol.

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