What makes adolescent brains especially vulnerable to alcohol’s effects?
Thanks to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), we know that tremendous brain development
occurs during the teen years, and that the brain is not fully developed until about age 25. We also
know the part of the brain that controls planning, delayed gratification and judgment develops
last. That’s why kids take risks and often don’t think things through before jumping in.
It’s also why regular alcohol use during adolescence is so dangerous: Drinking lowers inhibitions
for risky behavior.
During this time, the brain is supercharged to take in, store, analyze, and act on new information
and experiences. A great strength of the brain at this stage is its receptiveness and malleability.
Adolescents are building up a vast reservoir of knowledge, emotional fortitude and skills.
However, this great strength can have a major downside. An adolescent brain exposed to alcohol
is more easily damaged than an adult’s. Overall brain size may be reduced. Alcohol decreases
communication among nerve cells, which is the brain’s stock in trade. Hence, the brain and the
body do not work as well..
We all want our kids to make good decisions and grow into well-rounded, responsible adults.
But research shows that a few years of heavy drinking can hamper them in school and in learning
to interact and build relationships with others. Regular alcohol use can lower overall brain
function and learning ability. It also can undermine kids’ decision-making ability and impede
the development of social skills. Beyond that, the younger a person is when they start to drink
regularly, the more likely they are to become alcoholics. Young people also tend to become
addicted faster than adults.
Article taken in part from the Oregon Partnership website: www.orpartnership.org