As the brain develops, areas of grey matter involved with learning can help identify risk factors for mental wellness and behavior issues in teens. New findings from the University Medical Center in Germany are emerging that identify a correlation between measurements taken during brain imaging and the likelihood of alcohol use. Because the teen years are often when regular alcohol use begins, researchers predict that measures taken during those years can guide intervention and prevention practices.

Teen alcohol abuse can lead to lifelong problems, including issues with brain development and addiction. The tests that were performed during this brain imaging research scanned 1,800 adolescents starting at 14 years old and then again at 19 years old. Two specific areas of the brain were measured. The participants who had larger amounts of grey matter in these areas of the brain at 14 years of age had higher rates of alcohol consumption by age 19.

Researchers acknowledge that there are significantly more external factors that influenced these results. However, any indicators that are identifiable to predict addiction tendencies can be informative and helpful to people who support teen addiction prevention.

Increased Alcohol Use

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol abuse statistics in the United States continue to rise. Teenage alcohol use statistics recorded in 2015 revealed that about 13% of people between the ages of 12–20 reported binge drinking within the last month. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance survey in 2017 reported that 16.5% of the students surveyed had ridden with a driver under the influence of alcohol within the last month.

The legal age to purchase and consume alcohol is 21 years old in every state. It is a criminal offense in all states to present false identification to purchase alcohol. Even with those standards in place, record numbers of teenagers consume alcohol on a regular basis. There is growing concern as new research, such as this brain imaging study, increases our understanding of addictive tendencies and the neural wiring that may predispose an individual to destructive behaviors.

Teenagers who regularly drink alcohol are:

  • More likely to incur accidental injuries in vehicles or to their person
  • More likely to be involved in violence
  • More likely to make decisions that involve risk
  • More likely to be a victim of assault
  • More likely to binge drink
  • More likely to develop other substance abuse issues

Teenagers drink for a variety of reasons. Peer pressure, the thrill of taking risks and personality traits may increase the frequency and severity of alcohol consumption. Genetic and environmental factors also play a role in underage drinking.

One of the greatest areas of concern is the propensity for teens who drink to develop other substance abuse habits, which could lead to long-term addiction. Because of underdeveloped reasoning skills and other issues of pre-adulthood, teenagers are unlikely to count the cost or anticipate the consequences of social or binge drinking. It is important that education and prevention services project the message and importance of these issues in a way that teens will understand.

The Findings

The findings of this brain imaging study can provide helpful information in understanding the vulnerability of some adolescents to alcohol use. As scientists understand the cycle of brain development through these critical years, identifying individuals who are predisposed to addiction habits can help care providers circumvent or avoid long-term addiction issues. During adolescence, destructive habits of alcohol misuse can be prevented. Ultimately, alcohol abuse and substance abuse could be largely prevented by identifying and intercepting adolescents with this propensity, before it is too late.

If your teen is struggling with substance abuse issues, help is available. Reach out to a representative at The Recovery Village today for more information about adolescent-specific treatment programs