Because the human brain continues to develop well into our 20's, the decisions we make as teenagers can have permanent consequences that echo far into adulthood. Unfortunately, adolescents aren't exactly known for making the best or most rational decisions.
A new study highlights that train of thought, noting alcohol's lasting effects are a particular concern among teenagers who drink alcohol - in both large and small quantities.
Teenage Drinking, Grown Up Problems
The findings, led by Duke University researchers and published in a recent issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, were gathered by giving 10 doses of alcohol to adolescent rats over a period of 16 days. The rats were never tested for alcohol again after those 16 days of drinking.
When examined years later (as adults), the scientists found that permanent damage had been done to the hippocampus, a region of the brain that controls memory and learning. Not only did nerve cells in that part of the brain communicate abnormally, they also looked immature compared to the surrounding healthy cells.
Damaging the Brain's Roadmap
Similar damage can be seen in adolescents who consume excessive amounts of alcohol.
Teens who binge drink lose more white matter in the brain over time, as compared to teens who don’t abuse alcohol.
Binge drinking also affects the prefrontal cortex region of the brain, an area associated with attention, concentration, self-control and decision-making skills. A damaged prefrontal cortex can lead to poor executive function, eventually developing into faulty impulse control and an inability to steer clear of harmful behaviors - even when the person knows what they’re doing is dangerous.
“For humans, this means binge drinking during adolescence may permanently change brain functioning [and] appear to be irreversible, said Vivian Faden, a scientist at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Quenching Teenage Curiosities
Researchers have uncovered plenty of data to support the faulty brain function of binge drinking teens. Examples include:
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one in five of the teen drivers involved in fatal car crashes have alcohol in their bloodstream.
- Alcohol poisoning can quickly lead to respiratory failure; prolonged lack of oxygen can cause permanent brain damage and death.
- Teenagers commonly hurt and/or injure themselves as a result of drinking-related blackouts or depressive episodes.
For these and plenty of other reasons, adolescents are best served by abstaining from alcohol at all costs. Modern parents must be willing to trade in their fears and doubts, opting instead for open and honest conversation about the dangers of drinking, dealing with peer pressure and establishing a constant line of communication with teenagers.
The risks of teenage drinking are simply too high. All it takes is one night of binge drinking to result in permanent consequences.
Additional Reading: The Drug-Related Mistakes Haunting My Teenage Son
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