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how alcohol affects adolescent brain

The Impacts of Alcohol on Adolescent Brain

For teenagers, the impacts of alcohol on the brain and body can be severe and long-lasting. Alcohol is a depressant, meaning that it slows down the brain and body’s primary functions. Because young people are still developing, the impacts of alcohol on the adolescent brain can impact judgment, consciousness, memory, coordination, and breathing. In addition, alcohol can affect breathing patterns in otherwise healthy teenagers. 

Fast Facts About the Impacts of Alcohol on Adolescent Brain

Drinking at any age can rewire the brain and how it functions. However, when it comes to the adolescent brain, these changes can be more severe as their brain is still developing. Researchers know that the brain of a heavy drinker versus a non-drinker function entirely different. 

A teenager’s frontal cortex lacks maturity, which makes the brain more susceptible to the promise of rewards and social threats. Teenagers weigh immediate rewards as more valuable than future ones. Because of this, teenagers pay more attention to their peers, which could explain why they engage in activities such as binge drinking despite the negative consequences. 

In addition, alcohol consumption slows down brain activity. In a functional MRI scans of two teens while they took a working memory test. The images showed that the heavy drinker isn’t using areas of the brain usually used to complete a memory test, while the non-drinker is. Researchers suggest that in school, heavy drinkers may not be activating those regions of the brain required to remember a lesson.

Finally, the adverse side effects of alcohols last far longer in a teenager’s brain than in an adult’s brain. Most teenagers experience alcohol effects for up to two weeks after consumption. As a result, the brain doesn’t correctly develop areas that manage judgment and impulse control, as well as damaging the memory and learning areas. 

Short-term Impairements

In the short-term, alcohol can cause slowed thinking, poor judgment, sleep issues, mood swings, and even alcohol poisoning. Overall, adolescents are less sedated by alcohol than adults, and it helps them reduce social anxiety, which is why many will continue drinking despite adverse consequences. 

These factors are also what makes adolescents more likely to engage in binge drinking episodes. This means they have four to five or more drinks per occasion. Binge drinking can lead to blackouts, unplanned, and unwanted sexual activity, fights, accidents, and higher risks of driving under the influence. 

Finally, when adolescents continue to drink, alcohol affects their learning development. Not to mention it interferes with behaviors, health habits, and potentially leads to brain damage.

Long-term Consequences of Alcohol Abuse

The long-term consequences of alcohol abuse can be quite detrimental for adults, but for teenagers, they can be life-threatening. Adolescent alcohol exposure causes a shutdown process that stops the hippocampus from forming new cells. It can also lead to a persistent increase in brain activity, which can lead to inflammation and potentially develop Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, or “wet brain.”

Binge levels of alcohol in adolescence can cause changes in brain development and function that can have long-term consequences when they’re adults. Not to mention, alcohol abuse at any age causes irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, strokes, liver disease, pancreatitis, and an increased risk of cancer. 

Unfortunately, the younger someone starts drinking, the higher their chances of struggling with alcohol use problems in their lifetime. Alcohol rewires the brain in such ways that it increases someone’s risk for fighting with a substance abuse disorder. 

Before the age of 25, the brain is still growing and developing. Teenagers have decreased ability to make the right decisions because the part of the brain responsible for decisions (the pre-frontal lobe) isn’t fully-formed yet. Thus, leading to high-risk drinking and more health issues. As a result, the brain develops differently, leading to long-term damage.

Finding Help for Teenagers

Teenagers must receive education on the impacts of alcohol and the risks they face from drinking. Because the risk of alcoholism increases when someone starts drinking at a young age, preventing or even delaying experimentation is vital.

It takes more than just education and prevention, however. Unfortunately, many teenagers have already started drinking. Some even become addicted before they are legally able to drink. In these cases, early, effective treatment can stop the process and prevent further damage.

Treatment options for alcohol abuse among teenagers include:

It’s essential to take the right preventative measures to make sure our children understand the negative impacts of alcohol abuse. 

Learn More About Addiction Programs

If your teenager is struggling with alcohol abuse, please reach out for help. Ask our admission specialists about our alcohol addiction programs. Together, with our addiction specialists, we can create a custom treatment plan, designed to target adolescent substance abuse.

We understand this is an incredibly difficult decision to make. If you’re looking for guidance on how to talk to your child about addiction, how to stage an intervention, or how to make sure they receive the help they need, we’re here to help. 

At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, our mission is to help everyone around us find their path toward recovery. Sober living is exciting, filled with hope, and anyone struggling with alcohol and drug abuse can achieve it, all they need is the right support system by their side. We are that support system. 

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