Risks of Teen Alcohol Use

Why do teens abuse alcohol? There are a lot of issues in play when coming up with an answer to that question. Now, new imaging studies have identified the neuronal networks involved in the development of alcohol dependence. Structural and neuronal changes, including their transmitter systems, have been noted due to regular alcohol intake.

During adolescence, peer pressure is identified as a major factor on substance abuse, along with stress and family background. On the neurobiological level, chronic alcohol intake seems to render mesolimbic circuits hypersensitive to alcohol and alter the motivational reward system including dopaminergic neurotransmission. In other words, alcohol intake changes the way the brain works.

Adolescence is a unique developmental period characterized by major physiological, psychological, social, and brain changes, as well as an increased incidence of maladaptive, addictive behaviors. With the use of MRI techniques, researchers have been able to provide a better understanding of adolescent brain maturation, including how neurodevelopment affects cognition and behavior.

Alcohol intake results in profound alterations of neuronal systems crucial for motivation, learning, memory and cognition control. Alcohol can permanently change the growing brain thru maturity in the mid-twenties.

Findings highlight that substance use is normative in adolescence, yet this is a period of vulnerability for the emergence of substance use disorders (SUD), as nearly 8% of adolescents ages 12-17 and 21% of 18 to 25 year olds meet the criteria for a SUD.

Future studies should further combine the knowledge of neurobiological mechanisms and risk factors to develop new prevention strategies. The prevalence of substance abuse in adolescents and the associated negative outcomes emphasize the need for better and more effective treatment strategies in this population group.

If you know a teen with an alcohol problem, get help. Talk to a person with substance use disorderion treatment center to learn more about evidence-based therapies developed specifically for adolescents.