A report published in the February issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research summarizes findings from human and animal studies that provide mounting evidence of alcohol’s damage to the teenage brain. The study results were presented at the 2004 symposium of the Research Society on Alcoholism. Peter M. Monti, symposium organizer, stated “The adolescent brain is a ‘work in progress’. It is often referred to as ‘plastic’ because it is built to acquire information, adapt, and learn. Alcohol, however, can disrupt the adolescent brain’s ability to learn life skills.” One study using MRI compared the brains of younger boys and girls with those of young women aged 18 to 25. Boys and girls with alcohol use disorders who took a memory test had more brain activity than did a control group of adolescents, although their test scores were similar. However, women aged 18 to 25 who had had an alcohol problem since adolescence and took the same test had less brain activity and did not perform as well as a control group. The findings could mean that the brain of the younger teen with an alcohol problem may be able to compensate to perform a given task, but if the drinking continues, the brain cells may become damaged and unable to compensate. Other research on adult rats that had been “binge drinkers” as adolescents found that their brain structures differed from those of nondrinking rats. Additional studies focused on how to get youths to respond to anti-drinking messages. Brief counseling sessions in the emergency room were shown to result in measurable improvements in drinking and driving as well as in alcohol-related injuries.
An informative news release is available at: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2005-02/ace-ade020705.php.