How Does Alcohol Affect the Developing Teenage Brain?

Many teenagers and even parents see drinking alcohol as a rebellion or rite of passage into adulthood. While it is only legal to drink alcohol for people who are over 21 in Illinois, there are still those who choose to indulge without realizing the risks associated with it.

According to McLean Hospital, more than 90% of teens who drink alcohol do so in the form of binge drinking. This leads to the risk of violent behavior, long-term alcohol addiction, drunk driving, transmitted diseases and being a victim of some form of assault.

Alcohol impairs memory and learning in teens

While alcohol impairs memory and learning for adults who over-indulge, it has a stronger effect on the developing teenage brain. During the teenage years through the mid-20s, the brain is developing skills that improve decision-making ability and increase maturity.

The final part of the brain to develop is the frontal lobe. This controls things like impulse control and abstract thought, skills known as high-order abilities. This part of the brain becomes more detailed and fine-tuned during the teen years, and this process is negatively affected by the presence of alcohol.

Psychiatric problems related to drinking

Teenagers who drink are also more likely to suffer from conditions such as anxiety, depression and substance abuse disorders. Many teens are unable to control their portions and binge drink, which is a pattern of drinking that increases the blood alcohol concentration to more than 0.08%. Binge drinking greatly affects the verbal learning ability of teenagers, even when they are sober.

Impairment may not show up as quickly in teens who drink as it does in adults. Parents are often unaware their kids have been drinking until problems arise, which can often lead to trouble with the law.