Alcohol Damages the Teen-age Brain
Both the right and left hippocampi were smaller in teens with drinking
problems in comparison with the normal controls. "The difference was fairly
substantial, about a 10% difference, which for this area of the brain is a
major difference," Clark says. The shrinkage was limited to the
hippocampus; no differences were found in other brain areas.
The shrinkage of the hippocampus was greatest in those who began drinking at
an early age and in those individuals who were long-time abusers. The authors
say the findings suggest that, during adolescence, the hippocampus may be
particularly susceptible to the effects of alcohol.
Clark says that studies conducted in animals, as well as on adults with
longstanding alcohol use disorders, suggest that alcohol consumption causes the
brain damage. Other explanations, however, may be possible. For instance, the
brain changes may have preceded the alcohol consumption and contributed to the
onset of the alcohol abuse. Or another risk factor may have caused both the
drinking behavior and brain changes.
Clark says that at this early stage, it is difficult to say whether brain
changes or alcohol abuse come first. He says that longitudinal studies are
needed to confirm and expand the findings.
- The brain still is developing during the teen years. A new report suggests
drinking alcohol during this time may damage vulnerable areas in the brain.
More study is needed to determine the significance of the damage and if it's
- In the study, doctors took images of teen drinkers' brains and compared
them with images from nondrinking peers. Drinkers showed smaller brain regions
in charge of memory and learning.
- Drinkers also showed more signs of other mental conditions like depression,
conduct disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and attention deficit