The Tricks Alcohol Can Play on The Teenage Brain

A person's brain does not stop developing until his or her early to mid-20s, and adding alcohol to the mix is a recipe for disaster.

The brain goes through dynamic change during adolescence, and alcohol can seriously damage long- and short-term growth processes. Damage from alcohol at this time can be long-term and irreversible. In addition, short-term or moderate drinking can impair learning and memory far more in youth than in adults. Adolescents need only drink half as much as adults to suffer the same negative effects.

Here are some quick facts about alcohol use and the developing brain
  • Alcohol impacts both behavior and brain function differently in adolescents and adults.
  • Adolescents are more vulnerable than adults to the effects of alcohol on learning and memory.
  • Alcohol affects the sleep cycle, resulting in impaired learning and memory as well as disrupted release of hormones necessary for growth and maturation.
  • Alcohol affects all parts of the brain, which affects coordination, emotional control, thinking, decision-making, hand-eye movement, speech, and memory.
  • Adolescent drinkers perform worse in school, and they are more likely to fall behind and have an increased risk of social problems, depression, suicidal thoughts, and violence.
  • People who begin drinking in their early teens are not only at greater risk for developing alcoholism sometime in their lives, but they are also at greater risk for developing alcoholism more quickly and at younger ages, especially chronic, relapsing alcoholism.
  • Exposure to substances that inhibit cell growth has some impact on the adult brain, but these same substances can have a devastating effect on the developing brain.

Random Havoc
Alcohol selects receptors at random, acting on one receptor in one part of the brain and on a different one in another part of the brain. It is also random in its behavior in different brains, meaning it affects people differently.
Alcohol plugs into the brain's massive network of switches that activate and deactivate neural functioning and turns brain cells on or off. It affects channels in the brain cell membranes that permit calcium and other chemicals to provide energy to electrically fire off messages to other cells.
Alcohol combines with lipids (fat molecules) that form channels in the surfaces of brain cell membranes, temporarily changing their structure and function.
Alcohol reduces the level of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is known as the brain's peacekeeper, assisting in learning and problem solving and it enables our drive to live in harmony. It is connected to cells in every part of the brain-the only neurotransmitter that is. If not impeded by alcohol (or drugs that act on serotonin receptors), the brain receives gentle, rhythmic pulses of serotonin.
Global Havoc
Alcohol affects most of the brain, compromising memory, abstract thinking, problem solving, attention and concentration. It also alters motivation, emotions, awareness, thinking, movement, breathing, consciousness and more.