WARNING: Too Much Alcohol During Adolescence Could Alter Brain Development
A new study revealed that consuming too much alcohol during adolescence could disrupt the development of certain areas in the brain associated with impulse control and development of substance abuse disorder.
The study, published in the journal Addiction, showed that adults who have been heavy drinkers since their adolescence have significantly lower volume of grey matter in the anterior cingulate cortex bilaterally and the right insula of their brain.
"The maturation of the brain is still ongoing in adolescence, and especially the frontal areas and the cingulate cortex develop until the twenties," explained Noora Heikkinen, a PhD student at University of Eastern Finland and first author of the study, in a press release. "Our findings strongly indicate that heavy alcohol use may disrupt this maturation process."
For the study, the researchers recruited 62 participants aged 13 to 18 years old. The participants consisted of 35 heavy alcohol users and 27 controls. Despite consuming about six to nine units of alcohol roughly every week, none of the heavy drinkers were diagnosed with alcohol use disorder. The researchers measured the alcohol use of the participants at three points over 10 years-2005, 2010 and 2015.
The researchers observed that all the participants, regardless of alcohol consumption, were academically successful. Additionally, there is no significant difference in the prevalence of mental health problems between the heavy-drinkers and light drinkers.
However, magnetic resonance imaging of the brain revealed showed significant reduction of grey matter in the cingulate cortex and right insula. The cingulate cortex plays a crucial role in impulse control, while the insula is associated with the sensitivity to the negative subjective effects of alcohol. Structural and volumetric changes in the cingulate cortex and insula could lead to the development of substance use disorder.
Substance use disorder occur when the recurrent use of alcohol and/or drugs causes clinically and functionally significant impairment, such as health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school or home.