Alcohol's damaging effects on adolescent brain function

The adolescent brain is designed to learn; yet the same plasticity that facilitates neuromaturation also renders it particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of alcohol. Symposium speakers at the June 2004 Research Society on Alcoholism meeting in Vancouver, B.C. presented both animal and human research that clearly implicates alcohol use as a source of brain damage during these critical formative years. Proceedings are published in the February issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"The adolescent brain is a 'work in progress,'" said Peter M. Monti, symposium organizer and professor of medical sciences and director of the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University. "It is often referred to as 'plastic' because it is built to acquire information, adapt, and learn. Alcohol, however, can disrupt the adolescent brain's ability to learn life skills. So, not only can heavy drinking during this time get the adolescent into trouble through behavior such as risk taking or drinking and driving, but it can also make the brain less able to learn important life skills that can help one avoid trouble as an adult."

Monti added that another important aspect of the symposium was its intent to "bridge the gap" between two quickly evolving but generally disparate areas of research, animal and human. "This is the first time we've pulled together neurobiological, behavioral and psychological mechanisms that are related to drinking in both human and animal models," he said. "What is called 'transdisciplinary science' is very hot right now; it refers to when you bring together experts from across different fields to sort of push the science further."

Some of the findings presented were:

  • The neurochemical, cellular, synaptic, and structural organization of the adolescent brain makes it more vulnerable than the adult brain to disruption from activities such as binge drinking. Adolescent rats that

  • 14-Feb-2005

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