Heavy Drinking Bad For Teens

Drinking to excess can impair brain function in teenagers

(RxWiki News) The human brain is still developing in the teen years. Heavy drinking can disrupt proper brain pathway development and impair function.

A recent study looked at teens before they began drinking and again three years later. Results showed that heavy drinkers had impaired visual memory function.

"Heavy drinking is bad for you!"

Lindsay M. Squeglia, PhD, from the department of psychiatry at the University of California at San Diego, led a study into the predictions of brain scans on adolescent drinking.

Researchers performed two studies. For the first one, 20 heavy drinkers and 20 non-drinkers aged 15 to 19, were given functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans.

By using an fMRI, researchers were able to give the adolescents a task during the brain scan to determine how the brain worked during the task.

These fMRIs were testing the participant’s visual working memory (VWM). Results found that the heavy drinkers were less efficient in the part of the brain that oversees visual function.

For the second study, researchers looked at 40 teens aged 12 to 16 with no history of drinking. They were given the same fMRI scans at baseline and three years later the scans were repeated.

Half of those scanned became heavy drinkers three years later. The three-year later scans showed the same lack of function in the visual area of the brain.

Authors concluded that early brain scans did show slight differences in the brain activity of teens who would later participate in heavy drinking. And, later brain scans showed slight differences in brain activity that suggested less efficient visual processing, after a few years of heavy drinking.

This study was not designed to suggest that all teens should get fMRIs to test for vulnerabilities to heavy drinking. It does suggest that heavy drinking during these years of key brain development could have serious effects.

Dr. Squeglia said, “You’re learning to drive, you’re getting ready for college. This is a really important time of your life for cognitive development.”

This study was published in the September issue of Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. Funding for this study was supported by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, no conflicts of interest were found.

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Review Date: 
August 11, 2012