Underage Drinking Can Have Permanent Consequences

By: Ashley Winterstein

The negative effects of underage drinking are often quickly visible. Common side effects include hangovers, poor school grades, an increase in physical violence, a lack of participation in organized activities, and an increased risk for accidental injuries.

However, one of the most alarming side effects is not detectable for years down the road. Scientists have discovered what parents have often suspected, that the teen brain is not yet fully developed. In fact, the brain undergoes major transformations during adolescence similar to the changes that took place during the toddler years, leaving the brain very susceptible to long term damage.

The Partnership for a Drug- Free America explains on their website, www.drugfree.org, how the teen brain develops in a back to front fashion. For this reason, physical coordination, emotion, and motivation are developed before reasoning and impulses. This means that not only are teens more likely to take risks without thinking about the consequences, but the consequences could be permanent.

The Prefrontal Cortex, which controls judgment, complex thinking, decision making, and impulse control is not fully developed until the age of 25. The American Medical Association(AMA) released a fact sheet in 2003 that states, “Researchers found that adolescent drinking could cause severe changes in this area … which plays an important role in forming adult personality and behavior. Damage from alcohol at this time can be long-term and irreversible.”

The Hippocampus is responsible for learning and memory and also undergoes significant changes from ages 12-25. The AMA cautions that, “The hippocampus suffers the worst alcohol related brain damage in teens. Those who had been drinking more and for longer had significantly smaller hippocampi (10 percent). In addition, short-term or moderate drinking impairs learning and memory far more in youths than adults. Frequent drinkers may never be able to catch up in adulthood, since alcohol inhibits systems crucial for storing new information.”

Reducing underage drinking is important for the immediate safety of local teens and also protects them from dangerous long term consequences that could alter the direction of their lives permanently. Please join our local management board, the Queen Anne’s County Community Partnership for Children and Families, in reducing underage drinking in our county.

Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention funded this project under grant number EUDL-2010-1010. All points of view in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position of any State or Federal agency.”