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What Are the Long-Term Repercussions of Binge Drinking on the Adolescent Brain?


brain function

Binge drinking is a common occurrence amongst adolescents today, and still remains a major concern amongst parents, educators, and healthcare professionals alike. As a 2015 study published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism emphasized, alcohol use amongst adolescents is consistently linked with psychosocial problems such as behavioral issues, difficulties in school, depression and anxiety – yet it is also linked with peer acceptance and social integration. For adolescents who want to fit in or who are abusing alcohol as a form of self-medication, what is the impact of this in terms of their developing brain?

An article published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) emphasizes that during the adolescent stage, connections of neurons in the brain are being formed as well as being lost, depending on the individual’s subjective experiences and interactions with other people and life events. As the adolescent brain is developing, neurotransmitters send signals throughout the brain and body, which can have a direct impact on learning and behavior. Dopamine (effects emotions, movements, and feelings of pleasure) and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA – regulates communication between brain cells) are two neurotransmitters that are highly impacted by alcohol consumption during adolescence. As the brain’s structure changes from binge drinking during teenage years, several changes can be experience as the adolescent gets older:

  • Reduction in size of hippocampus, responsible for learning and memory
  • Smaller prefrontal lobe, indicating impaired problem solving and other cognitive functions
  • Structural changes in the insula (processes information to produce emotional contexts)
  • Changes to the cingulate cortex (emotion formation, processing, learning, memory) could cause difficulties in impulse control, placing someone at greater risk for developing a substance use disorder (SUD) in the future

Binge drinking can have a significant impact on the adolescent brain, with some impairments affecting a person for the rest of their life. If your daughter or son is abusing substances, seek treatment for them right away by speaking with a professional from a reputable treatment center. Recovery is possible.

Simple Recovery is a world-renowned, California state-licensed substance abuse recovery center. We offer dual diagnosis treatment, so if you are experiencing both substance abuse and symptoms of a mental disorder, call us today at 888-743-0490 so that we can work with you to restore your happiness, health, and well-being. You do not have to continue living this way; there are many people here ready to help you.