Impact of alcohol on the teenage brain

Alcoholism is a state in which an individual enjoys drinking the most and dislikes everything that acts as a hurdle between him and his drink. It is an excessive physical and emotional dependence on alcohol that results in uncontrolled drinking. Alcoholism is a chronic disease seen across the world. While the United States is alarmed by alcohol-related deaths over the years, it has been observed that the country’s teens are becoming increasingly dependent on alcohol.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), around 679,000 adolescents in the age group of 12-17 (2.7 percent of this age group) had an alcohol use disorder (AUD) in 2014.

An individual addicted to alcohol faces severe health conditions, like aggression, anxiety and mood disorders. The situation is more severe in case of teens as they are more sensitive to the toxic effects of substances. They develop issues with their bone density, hormone levels and liver development and most importantly, the brain.

The human brain is composed of numerous parts. Alcoholism affects most of its parts, thereby disturbing different aspects of a teen’s life. Here is a brief take on how alcoholism affects a teen’s brain:

  1. Cerebral cortex: Cerebral cortex is the outer most layer of the brain. Also known as the ‘gray matter,’ it is made up of densely packed neurons and is the most important part of the brain. It plays a pivotal role in thought, perception, memory, attention and consciousness. Alcohol abuse tends to slow down the functioning of this part, which results in poor performance at school, college and sports.
  1. Central nervous system: Made up of the brain and the spine, the central nervous system controls an individual’s thinking, reasoning and understanding abilities. An excessive intake of alcohol can slow down this system and cause issues like altered speech, hazy thinking and slow reaction time.
  1. Prefrontal lobe: This is the front region of the outer layer of the brain. It helps an individual in decision making, planning and maintaining self-control. During teenage years, prefrontal cortex undergoes major changes and thus, is highly vulnerable to the effects of alcoholism. As per research, adolescents who are heavy drinkers have smaller prefrontal lobes, as compared to the teens of the same age who do not drink. Effects of alcohol on the region reduce the thinking ability and turns a teen into a violent person.
  1. Hippocampus: Located under the cerebral cortex, the hippocampus is a small region of the brain associated with memories. Alcohol negatively impacts the hippocampus and makes it difficult for an individual to remember things and hold on knowledge. This, in turn, can lead to some severe mental health conditions.
  1. Cerebellum: The cerebellum or the little brain enables an individual to maintain balance, coordination and being aware. Excessive intake of alcohol causes major nutritional deficiencies which lead to a defective development of the cerebellum.
  1. Hypothalamus: Located below the thalamus, the hypothalamus is a portion of the brain which is made up of some densely packed cell bodies of neurons. It controls an individual’s sleep, fatigue, body temperature and emotional behavior. When alcohol interferes with its functioning, blood pressure, hunger, thirst, urge to urinate increase, and body temperature and heart rate decline.
  1. Medulla oblongata: This cone-shaped neuronal mass is located in the hindbrain, in front of the cerebellum. It controls an individual’s normal body functions like heartbeat and body temperature. Excessive drinking can lead to severe conditions like hypothermia – abnormally low body temperature, by interfering with the functioning of the medulla oblongata.

Path to recovery

Alcoholism is dangerous at any age. However, it is more hazardous for teenagers as they have their brain and body still developing. If you or someone you know is facing an alcohol use disorder, the Florida Alcohol Addiction Helpline can help. You may call us at our 24/7 helpline number 866-220-5381 or chat online with one of our experts to know about the best alcohol rehab centers in Florida.