Heavy alcohol use changes adolescents' brains

December 8, 2016, University of Eastern Finland

Heavy alcohol use during adolescence alters the development of brain, according to a recent study from the University of Eastern Finland and Kuopio University Hospital. Cortical thinning was observable in young people who had been heavy drinkers throughout their adolescence. The findings were published in Addiction.

The study performed of the brain structure on young and healthy, but heavy-drinking adults who had been throughout their adolescence, as well as on age-matched light-drinking control participants. They participated in three cross-sectional studies conducted over the course of ten years, in 2005, 2010 and 2015. The participants were 13 to 18 years old at the onset of the study.

All participants were academically successful, and the prevalence of did not differ between the two groups. Although the heavy-drinking participants had used regularly for ten years, approximately 6-9 units roughly once a week, none of them had a diagnosed alcohol use disorder.

Magnetic resonance imaging of the brain revealed statistically significant differences between the groups. Among the heavy-drinking participants, grey matter volume was decreased in the bilaterally as well as in the right insula.

"The maturation of the brain is still ongoing in adolescence, and especially the frontal areas and the cingulate cortex develop until the twenties. Our findings strongly indicate that heavy alcohol use may disrupt this maturation process," says PhD Student Noora Heikkinen, the first author of the study.

Cingulate cortex has an important role in impulse control, and volumetric changes in this area may play an important role in the development of a substance use disorder later in life. Structural changes in the insula, on the other hand, may reflect a reduced sensitivity to alcohol's negative subjective effects, and in this way contribute to the development of a substance use disorder.

"The exact mechanism behind these structural changes is not known. However, it has been suggested that some of the volumetric changes may be reversible if is reduced significantly. As risk limits of alcohol consumption have not been defined for adolescents, it would be important to screen and record adolescent substance use, and intervene if necessary."

Explore further: Moderate alcohol intake may slow good cholesterol's decline

More information: Noora Heikkinen et al. Alcohol consumption during adolescence is associated with reduced grey matter volumes, Addiction (2016). DOI: 10.1111/add.13697

Related Stories

Moderate alcohol intake may slow good cholesterol's decline

November 14, 2016
In a study of 80,000 healthy Chinese adults, moderate drinking was associated with slower declines in high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or good cholesterol, over time, according to a preliminary study presented at the American ...

Older adults with long-term alcohol dependence lose neurocognitive abilities

September 22, 2016
Heavy drinking can lead to neurophysiological and cognitive changes ranging from disrupted sleep to more serious neurotoxic effects. Aging can also contribute to cognitive decline. Several studies on the interaction of current ...

Brain scans show long-term effects of heavy drinking

January 5, 2016
Something to mull over: New technology reveals how excessive drinking causes lasting damage to your brain.

Effects of alcohol in young binge drinkers predicts future alcoholism

May 15, 2014
Heavy social drinkers who report greater stimulation and reward from alcohol are more likely to develop alcohol use disorder over time, report researchers from the University of Chicago, May 15 in the journal Biological Psychiatry. ...

Heavy drinking may lead to stroke earlier in life

September 10, 2012
A new study shows that people who have three or more alcoholic drinks per day may be at higher risk for experiencing a stroke almost a decade and a half earlier in life than those who do not drink heavily. The research is ...

Adolescent exposure to drugs, alcohol fuels use in adulthood

July 29, 2016
Teenagers who have easy access to drugs and alcohol in the home are more likely to drink and do drugs in their early and late 20s. That's according to the one of the first studies to look at how adolescent exposure to illegal ...

Recommended for you

Marijuana use may not aid patients in opioid addiction treatment

December 4, 2017
Many patients who are being treated for opioid addiction in a medication-assisted treatment clinic use marijuana to help manage their pain and mood symptoms.

For opiate addiction, study finds drug-assisted treatment is more effective than detox

November 23, 2017
Say you're a publicly insured Californian with an addiction to heroin, fentanyl or prescription narcotics, and you want to quit.

Study finds medical cannabis is effective at reducing opioid addiction

November 17, 2017
A new study conducted by researchers at The University of New Mexico, involving medical cannabis and prescription opioid use among chronic pain patients, found a distinct connection between having the legal ability to use ...

Insomnia linked to alcohol-use frequency among early adolescents, says new psychology study

November 8, 2017
Insomnia is linked to frequency of alcohol use among early adolescents, according to new Rutgers University–Camden research.

Large declines seen in teen substance abuse, delinquency

October 25, 2017
More than a decade of data indicates teens have become far less likely to abuse alcohol, nicotine and illicit drugs, and they also are less likely to engage in delinquent behaviors, such as fighting and stealing, according ...

Trying to get sober? NIH offers tool to help find good care

October 3, 2017
The phone calls come—from fellow scientists and desperate strangers—with a single question for the alcohol chief at the National Institutes of Health: Where can my loved one find good care to get sober?

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.