How Does Heavy Drinking Affect the Adolescent Brain?

How heavy drinking affects teen’s brainsAs the adolescent brain is developing, it’s extremely vulnerable to outside circumstances. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry explains that the prefrontal cortex is what we use for reasoning, but this does not develop until later on in life. As the brain is not yet fully developed, youth are less likely to employ critical thinking when faced with risky situations, peer pressure and more – which makes heavy drinking a major concern for many parents and family members alike. If your teen is seeking helping for substance abuse, you may be fearing what the effect of this could have on their brain.

A 2015 study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry sought to explore this very question by analyzing 134 adolescents, 75 whom transitioned into heavy drinking and 59 who remained light drinkers and non-drinkers over the next 3.5 years. MRI scans were conducted two to six times between the ages of 12 and 24 for these adolescents, and they were then followed up for the next 8 years. These were the results from the study:

  • Adolescents who had engaged in heavy drinking showed accelerated gray matter reduction, which contains regions of the brain that help with muscle control, emotions, speech, decision making, hearing, self-control and more
  • Both male and female adolescents showed similar results when it came to these effects

While the adolescent stage is a crucial one for learning and development, and while heavy drinking can certainly reduce optimal functioning in several areas of the brain, teens can recover if treatment is sought early and is maintained. As Time Magazine has previously stated, youth who show problems with substance at age 18 are at even higher risk for developing a full-blown addiction by age 25. Help your teen seek the treatment they need right away.

Adolescent Recovery of Cumberland Heights (ARCH) originally began in 1985 when there were few other adolescent programs like it in the country. In 2019, we’re expanding our continuum of services with ARCH Academy, a unique program that offers 60 days to 6 months of residential care to adolescent boys ages 14-18 who are struggling with alcohol and/or drug addiction. This new program stems from Cumberland Heights, which has been around since 1966, and is located in Kingston Springs, Tennessee. The adolescent age is a critical time for development, making this a crucial time of positive influence. For more information, call us today at 1-800-646-9998.