Young Adult, Teenage Binge Drinking Linked To Negative Brain Changes, Later Alcohol Use Disorders
New research has confirmed what has been long suspected – heavy alcohol use during the teen and young adult years can cause damage to the neurological system and alter behaviors – more so even than in older adults.
The study, which was conducted by Anita Cservenka, an Oregon State University professor, reviewed existing research on the harmful effects of binge drinking or heavy drinking in adolescence.
The dangers posed to young persons was assessed by targeting four different factors: working memory, learning and memory, reactivity to alcohol cues, decision-making and reward-processing abilities, socio-cognitive and socio-emotional processing, and response inhibition.
Most of the studies involved persons who engaged in teenage binge drinking or heavy drinking as a young adult, but did not meet a diagnosis of alcohol use disorder.
Following a comprehensive examination, Cservekna ascertained that binge drinking might reduce specific areas in the brain that are critical to memory and language function, in addition to attention and awareness.
Specifically, youth reveal “systematically thinner and lower volume in the prefrontal cortex and cerebellar regions, and attenuated white matter development.” They also show “elevated brain activity…[while using] working memory, verbal learning, and inhibitory control tasks.” Moreover, it takes more brain power to do these mental tasks.
Also, neurological changes that stemmed from heavy drinking were also shown to put youth at a heightened risk for developing alcohol use disorder later in life.
But despite the risk, binge drinking among young people remains a serious problem. Studies reveal that around 25% of high school seniors in the U.S. admit to engaging in alcohol consumption to the point of complete intoxication in the past 30 days.
From the Study:
“These findings suggest altered neural structure and activity in binge and heavy-drinking youth may be related to the neurotoxic effects of consuming alcohol in large quantities during a highly plastic neurodevelopmental period, which could result in neural reorganization, and increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD).”
In other words, consuming high levels of alcohol while the brain is still maturing can cause unwanted, permanent changes in the brain and behavior, and puts the consumer at risk for an AUD in the future.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology