Most parents worry about teenage drinking because of the risk of car accidents, alcohol toxicity and run-ins with the law. But, according to a new study, there’s a new reason to fear teenage drinking. Heavy drinking during the adolescent and teen years could lead to impulsive behavior later in life.
Teenage Drinking and Impulsive Behavior
In a study scheduled to be published in the journal Alcoholism, researchers followed 500 kids from the age of 6 to the age of 20. With the help of interviews and questionnaires, they gathered information about their drinking habits and whether or not they exhibited impulsive behavior.
What did they find? Adolescent boys were more likely to engage in impulsive behavior if they had drunk heavily the prior year. There was a direct correlation between the amount of alcohol the teens drank and their degree of impulsivity.
Teen Heavy Drinking: Does It Lead to Impulsive Behavior?
This study only shows a correlation between impulsive behavior and heavy drinking. It doesn’t necessarily mean that one causes the other hand. It’s possible that teens that are prone toward impulsivity are also more likely to abuse alcohol. But researchers have another theory. They believe that heavy drinking during the critical adolescent years alters an area of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex.
In addition to its other functions, the prefrontal cortex plays a role in controlling social behaviors. When this area of the brain is damaged, impulsive behaviors become more common. Such impulsive behaviors not only put a teen at risk for injury, they lead to even more heavy drinking with all of its negative health consequences – creating a vicious cycle of impulsivity and heavy drinking.
Can the Impulsive Behavior Be Reversed?
According to this study, teens that stopped drinking heavily also became less impulsive – so the effects may not be permanent. The key is to get them to stop.
Teenage Drinking and Impulsivity: The Bottom Line?
There’s now another good reason to keep alcohol out of a teen’s hands. It could temporarily change the area of the brain that suppresses bad impulses. Discuss the danger of teenage drinking with your kids so they won’t be tempted to start. It could save their life – and their brain.
Eurekalert website. “Impulsive Behavior in Males Increases after Periods of Heavy Drinking