Teenage Drinking Greatly Impairs Neurological Development
> 7/5/2006 10:43:24 AM

Physicians and researchers have long believed that frequent bouts of alcohol consumption among minors slow brain functions and disrupt the development of essential faculties such as memory and risk assessment. Most adults understand that excessive drinking at any age is unhealthy and that adolescents are especially susceptible to the ravages of alcohol, but newly published preliminary studies by the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine suggest that such potentially crippling side-effects are even more pronounced than previous estimates.

In the past, some guessed that the still-developing brains of those under 18 are more resilient than those of adults and may, therefore, better weather the effects of regular drinking. After years of study, researchers determined that the opposite was true: heavy drinking disrupts the crucial development of neural pathways in the brain and creates predispositions toward alcohol dependance and its related disorders. The cognitive abilities of adults who drink are not as deeply effected as those of adolescents, even when the two groups consume identical amounts of alcohol.  

A previous, disturbing study
of risk behaviors in high-school students nationwide, published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, found that more than a quarter had consumed multiple alcoholic beverages before the age of 13. Those who begin drinking at such a young age are also several times as likely to be regular binge drinkers by the time they turn eighteen. Nearly half of those who start drinking before 14 will at some point become dependent on alcohol. A recent New York Times article on the study reported the results of its central experiments on lab rats, finding that adolescent rats exposed to large amounts of alcohol exhibited a notable underdevelopment of synapse connections and receptor cells in the forebrain and hippocampus, which help regulate the processes of learning and retaining information.  

Normally, these receptors are activated by the neurotransmitter glutamate and allow calcium to enter neurons, setting off a cascade of changes that strengthen synapses, by helping to create repeated connections between cells, aiding in the efficient formation of new memories

The brains of reformed drinkers may, in time, return to function in a manner approaching normal, but some of the biological tendencies encouraged by earlier drinking habits can remain. Teens who drink regularly end up using their brains in a slightly different capacity to make up for the subtle damages caused by alcohol. Most upsetting is the widespread prevalence of such behaviors among American high school and college students and the obvious need to further regulate them. The definitive conclusion one researcher drew from the rat study:

Alcohol creates disruption in parts of the brain essential for self-control, motivation and goal setting. Early drinking is affecting a sensitive brain in a way that promotes the progression to addiction.


This is extremely unpersuasive. It's obvious that young teens who drink heavily are more likely to engage in other irresponsible activities, but that's no reason to believe that drinking was the cause. In a country where teen drinking is illegal and strongly frowned upon, it's no surprise that kids who engage it also engage in other activities that are illegal and strongly frowned upon.I would be very surprised if you found the same result with a study conducted in a country where moderate teen drinking was legal and accepted. It's absurd to suggest that more regulation of teen drinking is required when other nations provide ample proof that regulation of teen drinking is wholly unnecessary.
Posted by: FXKLM 7/12/2006 1:16:34 AM

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