Alcohol and The Brain

If you spent any time with teenagers, you may begin to wonder what is going on inside their heads. Rolling eyes, smart mouths, mood swings, and risky behaviors seem to be a simple matter of course for 13 to 19-year-olds. It becomes a lot easier to understand when one realizes that the brain really doesn’t fully mature until someone reaches the age of 25! It is common to hear about the negative consequences of teen behavior, including drug and alcohol usage, and knowing a bit about how the brain works can actually help us to prevent teens from damaging their fragile and growing minds.

The brain plays an integral role in behavior. It is responsible for the action sequences that lead to the ultimate outward behavior. Through childhood, the brain is focused on creating new connections. This is why children find it so much easier to learn new languages and seem to learn new skills by the day. During adolescence the brain begins to focus on pruning inefficient pathways in the brain. The process the brain goes through during this time is essential for survival. The connections in the brain, known as neurons, are continuously examined to see if they are serving a purpose. If the neurons are weak, ineffective or unnecessary then they are trimmed away making room for more productive neurons.

During adolescence, this process is in full swing and the brain is very impressionable, adding neurons which will serve the body most efficiently. The frontal cortex, which is the area of the brain responsible for emotions, voluntary movements and planning, is the last to develop – hence why teenagers always seem to be in an emotional flux. It is just the way their brains are working. It is a critical time of development, and successful navigation is crucial. At the end of this pruning, the brain will be at its final stage and will remain there for the entirety of adulthood.

So what happens when the adolescent brain is exposed to alcohol? There are many who might look at exploring adult life and indulge in some ‘care-free’ drinking with the help of websites (like the one here) that help them create fake IDs. While this is a common occurrence and a harmless one at first sight, it must be understood that in no way can someone escape the consequences forever. Study after study has shown that teen drinking can irreversibly damage the brain’s capability for memory and attention. That is why it is so important that we, as a community, work to prevent teen drinking. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, teens that begin drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who begin drinking at age 21. This is why nowadays there are courses that bartenders and staff take to make sure they are following rules and not serving teenagers, as well as making sure they are serving alcohol conscientiously with a responsible service of alcohol course being taken to keep them and their customers safe whilst in bars. Alcohol can be enjoyed but not by teenagers and only by legal adults who hopefully know when their limit is.

Are you worried about your teen’s alcohol or drug use? Call Cortland Prevention Resources, a division of Family Counseling Services, at (607) 756-8970. There is help and there is hope!