ZIt’s easy to think of heavy drinking, even binge drinking, as an unfortunate but inescapable reality for teenagers and young adults. Many teenagers and those of newly minted drinking age experiment with alcohol use and frequently drink far too much in too short a time.
However, for the most part, young adults lose their taste for binge drinking and learn to moderate their alcohol consumption. This makes it even easier to shrug off heavy, irresponsible drinking among young adults and assume that they will eventually change their ways.
The problem with this line of thought (quite apart from the risk of alcohol poisoning or alcohol use disorders) is that heavy drinking in adolescence can do lasting damage to the brain. An increasing volume of research, including a new study from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, reveals the structural changes in the brain and memory that result from teenage drinking.
The Massachusetts study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, involved rats that were given daily access to alcohol during their adolescence. When the rats reached adulthood, the researchers discovered changes in the structure of their brains due to their exposure to alcohol. Levels of myelin, which is a fatty substance that coats nerve fibers in the brain, were reduced in the rats that were given access to alcohol at a young age. The researchers also found that adolescent alcohol exposure appeared to have a behavioral impact in addition to a structural impact: the rats who drank in adolescence continued to perform worse on memory tests well into adulthood.
This research suggests that human teenagers who drink heavily for a period in adolescence run the risk of permanent structural brain damage and impaired memory. Previous studies have also suggested this risk, but since they were performed on humans rather than rodents, the researchers were unable to control for various environmental factors that could be contributing to cognitive impairment.
There have always been risks associated with heavy drinking and binge drinking, especially among adolescents. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 5,000 people under the age of 21 die each year from alcohol poisoning, alcohol-related car crashes, alcohol-related homicides or suicides or other accidents involving underage drinking. Furthermore, heavy drinking greatly increases the risks of alcohol dependence and other use disorders.
However, it has been easy to believe that those who escape serious harm, dependence or addiction during young adulthood will not suffer any consequences from heavy underage drinking. Research such as the new study from Massachusetts is increasingly demonstrating that this belief is not correct and that teenagers who drink heavily may be damaging their brains for life.
While it is too early to know for sure whether the results of heavy teenage drinking are likely to be permanent or simply long-lasting, this information highlights the importance of reducing heavy drinking and binge drinking among teenagers. It is not only important to help teenagers get through periods of alcohol experimentation and binge drinking without addiction or serious injury, but also to spread the knowledge that heavy drinking can be harmful, even if it does not result in any short-term consequences.
In the U.S., young adults enrolled in college are widely known for their relatively heavy participation in alcohol consumption, as well as for their level of involvement in risky, potentially fatal drinking practices. Researchers and public health officials know that the perceived acceptability of drinking has a strong influence on the likelihood that any college student will consume alcohol. In a study slated for publication in September 2014 in the journal Addictive Behaviors, researchers from the University of Houston sought to determine if any given student’s perception of acceptable drinking norms depends on their level of social identification or allegiance with college as a whole.
Significant numbers of U.S. college students consume alcohol in excessive amounts. One of the well-established potential consequences of this excessive drinking is involvement as either a perpetrator or target of a sexual assault. In a study published in July/August 2014 in The American Journal on Addictions, researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln looked at some of the factors that could explain the connection between problem drinking in college men and participation in sexually aggressive behavior. Specifically, these researchers looked at the impact of college men’s preexisting expectations regarding alcohol’s effects on behavior.
In the U.S., college students have an unusually high drinking rate, as well as an unusually high level of involvement in at-risk behaviors that increase the odds for alcohol-related harm. Some alcohol consumers come to self-identify themselves as “drinkers.” In a study published in July 2014 in the journal Addictive Behaviors, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health sought to identify the impact that the establishment of such a drinking identity has on the underlying motivations of college students who consume enough alcohol to qualify as heavy drinkers.
Social anxiety is a term used to describe a heightened level of dread about the judgments that other people make in social situations or the potentially embarrassing consequences of involvement in certain types of social situations. People highly affected by this dread may qualify for an official mental health diagnosis known as either social anxiety disorder or social phobia. In a study published in June 2014 in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, a team of American and British researchers explored the impact that social anxiety has on the amount of alcohol that college students consume in various circumstances.
Despite its popularity as a recreational beverage, alcohol is poisonous to many organs throughout the human body, including the brain. In some cases, people under the influence of large amounts of alcohol experience “blackouts” that produce either fragmented memory function or a complete inability to recall spans of time. In a report published in June 2014 in NIAAA Spectrum, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) details the underlying causes for alcohol-related blackouts and also explains the different types of blackouts that can affect a person who drinks excessive amounts of alcohol.
There is a symbiosis which exists between alcohol and aggression. Anger can lead a person to drink and, conversely, drinking often leads to anger. Of course, not every person who drinks becomes more aggressive, but the fact that alcohol is linked to 50 percent of the violent crime in this country reveals this cause-and-effect relationship is a reality for many who drink. Why does alcohol produce increased aggression in some people? Here are a few explanations.
There has long been a generational tug of war between younger and older generations when it comes to music and lyrics. But certain musical genres are loaded with references to drinking and even to alcohol brand names. Hip-hop music frequently mentions high price labels like Hennessy for example. And these kinds of references have skyrocketed in recent years.
A recent study reveals a possible connection between verbal skills in children and drinking in teenagers and young adults. Researchers found that teens and young adults who had strong verbal skills as children were more likely to drink and to get drunk as they entered their teen years.
As teens navigate, communicate and even “party” through screens these days, discussions about safe alcohol consumption and responsibility must reflect the changing times. A new drinking game on Facebook proves just how far someone will go to acquire “likes” on their page, and it’s already lead to two deaths.