Teenage heavy drinking slows brain development

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  • Published: Jul 3, 2015
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: MRI Spectroscopy
thumbnail image: Teenage heavy drinking slows brain development

US scientists have shown that heavy drinking during adolescence had a marked effect on brain development, studied by MRI and reported in The American Journal of Psychiatry.

Compared with non-drinkers, the long-term effects of alcohol reduced the growth of white matter which is responsible for the wiring in the brain but accelerated the development of grey matter, which processes information. This is the reverse of the normal brain growth pattern when white matter increases and grey matter decreases.

The data might explain why teens who drink heavily have poorer working memory and degraded attention but the researchers were careful to point out that alcohol itself might not be the sole cause of these problems. Family history and social background might also play their part. Interestingly, the additional effects of marijuana and other illegal drugs did not affect the results.

The results "provide a call for caution regarding heavy alcohol use during adolescence, whether heavy drinking is the sole cause or one of several in these alterations in brain development," said the team.

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