The Effects of Alcohol on Developing Brains

The Effects of Alcohol on Developing BrainsUnderage drinking is a prevalent part of American adolescent culture. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrator (SAMHSA) has reported the following:

  • 26.4% of underage persons (ages 12-20) used alcohol, and binge drinking among the same age group was 17.4%
  • Nearly three quarters of students (72%) have consumed alcohol (more than just a few sips) by the end of high school, and more than a third (37%) have done so by eighth grade
  • 56.2% of current underage drinkers (ages 12-20) reported that their last use of alcohol occurred in someone else’s home; 29.6% reported that it occurred in their own home
  • Among underage drinkers (ages 12-20), 30.8% paid for the alcohol the last time they drank – including 8.3% who purchased the alcohol themselves and 22.3% who gave money to someone else to purchase it.
  • Among those who did not pay for the alcohol they drank, 37.4% got it from an unrelated person of legal drinking age; 21.1% received it from a parent, guardian, or other adult family member

These statistics reflect that the underage use of alcohol is a common practice. What many adolescents don’t consider, however, is the harmful effects that alcohol has an adolescent’s brain.

The Effects of Alcohol on an Adolescent’s Brain

The brain continues to mature into the mid-20s; therefore underage alcohol consumption can cause alterations in the structure, neuron connectivity, physiology, and function of the developing brain.

Different parts of the brain mature at different times. Adolescents are particularly susceptible to the effects of alcohol because the limbic area of the brain, which regulates emotions, develops before the front lobe, which is responsible for self-regulation, judgment, reasoning, problem solving, and impulse control. The different maturation levels may contribute to an adolescent making impulsive decisions or actions and disregarding consequences.

Alcohol and the Central Nervous System

While alcohol can appear to be a stimulant because it depresses the part of the brain that controls inhibitions, it is, in fact, a central nervous system depressant. Alcohol slows down the central nervous system, making the person think, speak, and move slower.

Alcohol’s Effects on Other Parts of the Brain

The brain is affected by alcohol use in the following ways:

  • Alcohol slows down the cerebral cortex and its ability to process information from a person’s senses.
  • When alcohol affects the frontal lobes of the brain, a person may find it hard to control his or her emotions and urges. The person may act without thinking or may even become violent.
  • When alcohol reaches the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for creating memories), a person may have trouble remembering something he or she just learned.
  • Coordination, thoughts, and awareness are controlled by the cerebellum. The shakiness and imbalance that people experience with alcohol use show alcohol’s affect on this part of the brain.
  • The hypothalamus controls blood pressure, hunger, thirst, body temperature, heart rate, and the urge to urinate. Alcohol imbalances all of these functions.

Some of these effects can have long-term or permanent damage to the brain.

Get Help for Adolescent Drinking

If you suspect that your adolescent is drinking, do not wait to address this dangerous behavior. Call our toll free number today. We are available 24 hours a day to answer any questions you might have about identifying alcohol abuse and finding resources to get help for your child.