The Adolescent Brain

The brain goes through dynamic change during adolescence, and alcohol can seriously damage long- and short-term growth processes. Frontal lobe development and the refinement of pathways and connections continue until age 6, and a high rate of energy is used as the brain matures until age 24-25. Damage from alcohol at this time can be long-term and irreversible. In addition, short-term or moderate drinking impairs learning and memory far more in youth than adults. Adolescents need only drink half as much to suffer the same negative effects.

Drinkers vs. Non-Drinkers: Research Findings

  • Adolescent drinkers scored worse than non-users on vocabulary, general information, memory, memory retrieval and at least three other tests
  • Adolescent drinkers perform worse in school, are more likely to fall behind and have an increased risk of social problems, depression, suicidal thoughts and violence
  • Alcohol affects the sleep cycle- resulting in impaired learning and memory as well as growth and maturation
  • Alcohol use increases risk of stroke among young drinkers

Lasting Implications

Compared to students who drink moderately or not at all, frequent drinkers may never be able to catch up in adulthood, since alcohol inhibits systems crucial for storing new information as long-term memories and makes it difficult to immediately remember what was just learned.Additionally, those who binge once a week or increase their drinking from age 8 to 24 may have problems attaining the goals of young adulthood—marriage, educational attainment, employment, and financial independence. And rather than “outgrowing” alcohol use, young abusers are significantly more likely to have drinking problems as adults.

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