Brain activity may predict teens' heavy drinking

August 8, 2012

Heavy drinking is known to affect teenagers' developing brains, but certain patterns of brain activity may also help predict which kids are at risk of becoming problem drinkers, according to a study in the September issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

Using special , researchers looked at 40 12- to 16-year-olds who had not started drinking yet, then followed them for about 3 years and scanned them again. Half of the teens started to drink alcohol fairly heavily during this interval. The found that kids who had initially showed less activation in certain were at greater risk for becoming in the next three years.

Then once the teens started drinking, their activity looked like the heavy drinkers' in the other studies – that is, their brains showed more activity as they tried to perform memory tests. This pattern of heavy drinking typically included episodes of having four or more drinks on an occasion for females and five or more drinks for males.

"That's the opposite of what you'd expect, because their brains should be getting more efficient as they get older," said lead researcher Lindsay M. Squeglia, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Diego.

The findings add to evidence that heavy drinking has consequences for teenagers' developing brains. But they also add a new layer: there may be patterns that predict which kids are at increased risk for heavy drinking.

"It's interesting because it suggests there might be some pre-existing vulnerability," Squeglia said.

That doesn't mean are going to start having MRI scans of their brains to see which ones might start drinking. But the findings do give clues into the biological origins of kids' problem drinking.

These findings also reinforce the message that heavy drinking may affect young people's brains right at the time when they need to be working efficiently.

"You're learning to drive, you're getting ready for college. This is a really important time of your life for cognitive development," Squeglia said. She noted that all of the study participants were healthy, well-functioning kids. It's possible that teens with certain disorders -- like depression or ADHD -- might show greater effects from heavy drinking.

Explore further: Binge drinking by freshman women tied to sexual assault risk, according to new research

More information: Squeglia, L. M., Pulido, C., Wetherill, R. R., Jacobus, J. Brown, G. G., & Tapert, S. F. (September 2012). Brain response to working memory over three years of adolescence: influence of initiating heavy drinking. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 73(5), 749.

Related Stories

Binge drinking by freshman women tied to sexual assault risk, according to new research

December 8, 2011
Many young women who steer clear of alcohol while they're in high school may change their ways once they go off to college. And those who take up binge drinking may be at relatively high risk of sexual assault, according ...

Adolescent binge drinking can damage spatial working memory

July 15, 2011
Binge or "heavy episodic" drinking is prevalent during adolescence, raising concerns about alcohol's effects on crucial neuromaturational processes during this developmental period. Heavy alcohol use has been associated ...

The effect of occasional binge drinking on heart disease and mortality among moderate drinkers

February 2, 2012
Most studies have found that binge drinking is associated with a loss of alcohol's protective effect against ischemic heart disease (IHD) and most studies have found an increase of coronary risk among binge drinkers.

Recommended for you

Marijuana use amongst youth stable, but substance abuse admissions up

August 15, 2017
While marijuana use amongst youth remains stable, youth admission to substance abuse treatment facilities has increased, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York.

Report reveals underground US haven for heroin, drug users

August 8, 2017
A safe haven where drug users inject themselves with heroin and other drugs has been quietly operating in the United States for the past three years, a report reveals.

Regular energy drink use linked to later drug use among young adults

August 8, 2017
Could young adults who regularly consume highly caffeinated energy drinks be at risk for future substance use? A new study by University of Maryland School of Public Health researchers, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol ...

Gamblers more likely to have suffered childhood traumas, research shows

August 2, 2017
Men with problem and pathological gambling addictions are more likely to have suffered childhood traumas including physical abuse or witnessing violence in the home, according to new research.

Incorporating 12-step program elements improves youth substance-use disorder treatment

July 26, 2017
A treatment program for adolescents with substance-use disorder that incorporates the practices and philosophy of 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) produced even better results than the current state-of-the ...

Concern with potential rise in super-potent cannabis concentrates

July 21, 2017
University of Queensland researchers are concerned the recent legalisation of medicinal cannabis in Australia may give rise to super-potent cannabis concentrates with associated harmful effects.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.