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Alcohol causes permanent damage to adolescent brains

Sept. 2, 2015 at midnight

Most people don’t need a government study to prove adolescents sometimes make foolish mistakes. Fortunately, most of those youthful errors do not carry lifetime consequences.

When it comes to drinking alcohol, however, there is scientific evidence that teens who drink can cause permanent brain damage.

In a study at the University of California, San Diego, researcher Susan Tapert compared brain scans of teens before they started drinking alcohol with scans of the same teens after they began binge drinking. Her team also did brain scans on teens who never drank.

She found damaged nerve tissue in the brains of teen drinkers. Study scientists believe the damage negatively affects attention span in boys, while in girls, it hampers their ability to comprehend and interpret visual information.

"These results were actually surprising to me because the binge drinking kids hadn't, in fact, engaged in a great deal of binge drinking,” Tapert reported in an interview for “They were drinking on average once or twice a month, but when they did drink, it was to a relatively high quantity of at least four or five drinks an occasion."

That information is particularly concerning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, underage drinkers account for 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the United States. Of that 11 percent, 90 percent is consumed during binge drinking.

While the information about brain damage should raise many concerns, the CDC notes teen drinking is classified as a risky behavior because of other societal problems it causes including:

  • Higher rates of school absenteeism and poor or failing grades
  • Fighting and lack of participation in youth activities
  • Arrests for driving or physical altercations while drunk
  • Hangovers or illnesses
  • Unwanted, unplanned and unprotected sexual activity
  • Disruption of normal growth and sexual development
  • Physical and sexual assault
  • Higher levels of suicide and homicide
  • Alcohol-related car crashes and other unintentional injuries, like burns, falls and drowning
  • Abuse of other drugs
  • Death from alcohol poisoning

Underage drinking is a problem wherever it occurs, including Longview. In a survey for the Coalition for Drug Free Youth, 53 percent of the respondents said they believe alcohol is a significant problem for Longview teens between the ages 12 and 17. For the 18 to 25 age group, 72 percent of those taking the survey said drinking is a significant problem.

Also found by the survey, 33 percent of respondents said alcohol was the one substance of greatest concern for youths 18 to 25. The second-highest rated substance was meth at 18 percent, followed by synthetic marijuana at 15 percent and regular marijuana at slightly less than 15 percent.

In 2014, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), in conjunction with the Public Policy Research Institute (PPRI) at Texas A&M University, conducted its fourteenth biennial Texas School Survey of Substance Use.

About 33,463 students in grades 7-12 from 93 school districts across the State were asked to report on their use of alcohol and other substances. Alcohol remains the most commonly used substance among Texas students. In 2014, 50.5 percent of students reported that they had used alcohol at some point in their lives. This rate significantly decreased from 57.5 percent in 2012. Past-month alcohol use also decreased from 25.1 percent in 2012 to 21.2 percent in 2014.

Partners in Prevention in Longview can provide information about how to prevent underage drinking and signs to watch for in youth of alcohol use. Additionally, Partners in Prevention can assist with referrals for those who want help dealing with alcohol or other substance abuse problems.



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