Alcohol Abuse in Adolescence Damages the Brain
Starting between the ages of 13 to 18, participants were analyzed for a new study published in Addiction. The study lasted for ten years, with participants undergoing three cross-sectional MRI studies at 2005, 2010 and 2015, according to Science Daily. Among the participants, some were heavy drinkers, who had been heavy drinkers during their adolescence. There were also light-drinking participants for control.
The study found that the mental health of the two groups did not differ. Interestingly, the participants who were heavy-drinkers in their adolescent years were absent of any alcohol use disorder diagnoses. However, the difference which did stand out was the state of the participants’ brains. “Magnetic resonance imaging of the brain revealed statistically significant differences between the groups. Among the heavy-drinking participants, grey matter volume was decreased in the anterior cingulate cortex bilaterally as well as in the right insula,” the article cites.
During adolescence, the brain is still undergoing critical development, which lasts until the twenties. Numerous drug substances like marijuana have been pointed to as primary inhibitors to cognitive development. The prefrontal cortex and the cingulate cortex are particularly important to development and some of the most heavily affected areas by alcohol abuse in adolescence.
“Cingulate cortex has an important role in impulse control, and volumetric changes in this area may play an important role in the development of a substance use disorder later in life,” the article explains. Additionally, changes in other parts of the brain create the problematic symptom of alcoholism in which someone who has become chemically dependent on alcohol loses their ability to consider negative consequences. For adolescents, this can worsen their vulnerability to developing alcohol use disorder.
Compromising the development of the brain can have an effect in other areas of an adolescent’s life as they mature into an adult. Though the study did not reveal any mental health issues, it is common to develop a mental health disorder after heavily abusing substances like alcohol. Likewise, the necessary life skills and practical tools that adolescents need to effectively adapt to the world and their growing responsibilities do not take hold in the brain when it is compromised by alcohol. Thus, adolescents who heavily abused alcohol experience stress in trying to keep up, which could eventually lead to further substance abuse.
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