Heavy Drinking in Teens Can Damage Brain

Although drinking alcohol is an accepted cultural behavior in many countries across the world, heavy use of alcohol can cause disastrous short-term and long-term consequences, especially among youth.

Experts explain that adolescents are known to enjoy their drinking games and nights-out without worrying much about the effects alcohol can have on their health. In fact, drinking in high quantities is common during adolescence with nearly 25 percent of high school seniors in the US reporting that they got drunk in the last 30 days.

A new mini review looks at the effects of heavy drinking among young people; in particular, how the behavior impacts brain health.

“Adolescence is a time when the brain still matures including not only biological development but also maturation of psychosocial behaviors. Given the increase of binge and heavy drinking in young people, understanding the effects of consuming large quantities of alcohol on neural development and the impact on cognitive skills is very important,” said Assistant Professor Anita Cservenka, an Assistant Professor at Oregon State University.

The study appears in Frontiers in Psychology.

Binge or heavy episodic drinking means four or more standard drinks within a two-hour drinking session for females, five or more drinks for males. The review highlights existing research that examines the harmful effects of such drinking habits with a view to inform future studies.

“We looked at six areas to determine the deleterious impact of heavy drinking on brain response, namely: response inhibition, working memory, verbal learning and memory, decision making and reward processing, alcohol cue reactivity, and socio-cognitive/socio-emotional processing” Cservenka said.

The review establishes that binge drinking among young people is associated with a thinning or reduction of areas of the brain that play a key role in memory, attention, language, awareness, and consciousness, which include cortical and subcortical structures.

Using learning and memory as an example, researchers explain that studies have shown heavy drinking leads to a deficit in the ability of young people to learn novel words, which has been linked to changes in brain activity.

Looking to the future, “these brain alterations, as a result of heavy alcohol use during adolescence and young adulthood, could result in increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder later on in life.

“It is therefore important to continue raising awareness of the risks of binge drinking and to promote future research in this area. Our review provides a useful basis to determine the areas that require further attention,” Cservenka said.

Source: Oregon State University/EurekAlert