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Taking Care of Ourselves & Each Other

Health & Well-Being

How is life tree-titing you graphic. Credit: Allison Piwowarski

The Flourish, April 2022: How is Life Tree-Ting You?

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Alcohol and the Developing Brain

Did you know that one’s brain isn’t fully developed until around age 25? That means that activities that you engage in, whether healthy or not, may have a profound impact during this critical phase in brain development. Studies have shown that the use of alcohol and other drugs can alter one’s brain during this developmental period. The impact on our brain is much greater, and longer lasting, than getting a little buzzed, feeling a bit tipsy, or lowering our social inhibitions.

Our personal experiences and interactions with the world help to sculpt our brain. The prefrontal cortex is particularly important during late adolescence-closer to age 25- as it aids us in memory, voluntary motor behavior, impulse control, rule/norm learning, spatial learning, planning, and decision making. Our brains rapidly grow and change during the transition from childhood to adulthood. Introducing alcohol into the equation interferes with this process of brain development and can have long-lasting effects.

For some, college is a time when students choose to play around with new, risky behaviors, including binge drinking and heavy alcohol use. At this stage of development we have a greater desire for rewards, give in to impulses more easily, and have a decreased ability to self-control one’s emotions and behaviors. Starting to explore one’s alcohol use during this time exposes our vulnerable, still-in-process, cognitive development to potentially serious and long-lasting consequences.

Alcohol-induced deficits have a greater impact on adolescents than adults. Reports have shown that adolescent binge drinking is associated with an overall cognitive deficit and specific impairments in decision-making and inhibition. Heavier alcohol use contributes to poorer cognitive functioning long-term, even if drinking is decreased. Furthermore, longitudinal studies have revealed potential negative effects of adolescent binge drinking and heavy alcohol use on memory, learning, visuospatial function, executive function, reading ability and impulsivity.

So, the next time you consider drinking to excess, it may not seem like a big deal now, but consider how it might impact your brain structure and function down the road.

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