Effects of teen drinking

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: October 31st, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

For many adults, growing evidence suggesting that alcohol, when used in moderation, produces health benefits has been welcome news. But because alcohol is still dangerous when abused, physicians have shared this news with great caution and a number of caveats.

You can add one more to the list. New research suggests alcohol is especially damaging to the developing brains of teenagers. Although the brain may eventually compensate for some of this damage, evidence also suggests that heavy drinking predisposes many teenagers to alcoholism later in life.

Of course, by law, teenagers are not supposed to drink. But by long-standing practice that verges on coming-of-age tradition, many of them do, and their consumption is often anything but moderate.

Now, scientists say this behavior exacts a heavy price. Recent studies of the brains of adolescent rats exposed to binge doses of alcohol showed significant cellular damage to the part of the brain important in learning and memory. Also affected were areas involved in planning, discrimination and assessing questions of right and wrong.

The damage was far greater than expected and exceeded the injury produced in adult rats that drank comparable amounts of alcohol. Perhaps most striking: In interviews with forty-thousand adults, nearly half of those who began drinking before the age of fourteen became dependent on alcohol at some point in their lives, compared with just nine percent who waited until twenty-one to drink.

That’s a sobering reminder that alcohol, despite its healthful new image, still deserves its dangerous reputation.