Young Drinkers' Brains Show Alcohol's Damaging Effects
> 8/24/2007 10:28:54 AM

Research presented at this month's American Psychological Association Convention 2007 illustrates the neurological damage done to the brains of young drinkers even as their scores on standard neuropsychological tests fail to reveal damages. In presenting her findings, Josephine Wilson, Ph.D., of Wittenberg University, made sure to point out that these measured effects fall into line with alcohol related neurological damage seen in older drinkers. What set her work apart in this case however, was that subjects performed numerous tasks designed to measure neuro-cognitive ability, and were also given MRI and FDG-PET scans. The subjects, young men between the ages of 21 and 25, performed on par with their more sober counterparts in the test ares, but still showed the effects of their drinking on the brain scans.

As can be seen in the brain scan images below, alcohol's damaging effects to the brain in heavy drinkers has been well documented. What Dr. Wilson's study shows, is that this damage begins early, and occurs even as cognitive function seemingly continues at a high level. The alcohol consuming group in this study self-reported consuming at least 25 drinks a week. This may seem like a large amount, but when we step back and look at the average college or even high school drinker's intake, 25 drinks might not seem that out of the ordinary. Just this year, survey data revealed that of all high school drinkers (roughly 45% of high school aged survey respondents said they used alcohol), 64% of that group said they had participated in binge drinking. Especially for younger, developing brains, any amount of alcohol can be damaging. Dr. Wilson's study has shown that damage often mirrors the damage that we see in older drinkers. However, the plasticity of the brain allows these younger drinkers to continue to function at a high level. The muscle's natural resiliancy should, if drinking behaviors abate, allow the brain to restore itself to full capacity, but continued drinking will lead to continued damage and increased likelihood of permanent effects. Most worrisome should be the effects of this damage, which can range from seriously affecting reward processing centers in the brain to aiding in the development of habitual behaviors that will be incredibly difficult to overcome later in life.

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