Teen Drinking Damages Brain


Heavy Drinking v. Teen Brain

The effects of a vodka-soaked night do not simply vanish after a person’s head finally stops throbbing on the following evening. Even after the lingering buzz has finally worn off and the eyes can open in sunlight without burning pain, alcohol is still acting upon the body and brain behind the scenes.

The dangers posed by alcohol aren’t limited to what’s perceivable when a person can no longer speak without slurring. Heavy teen drinking triggers a gradual, ongoing attack on the body and brain that doesn’t simply stop with sobriety; this is doubly so for teenagers, whose cerebral cortices still have critical formative phases to develop through.

Tampert’s Study on the Brain Damage Caused by Teen Drinking

At the University of California, San Diego, neuroscientist Susan Tampert conducted a study to examine the development differences between the brains of sober teenagers and teenagers who began to drink. Tampert hypothesized that the teenage brain, still biologically in mid-construction, would be far more susceptible to alcohol-inflicted damage than adult brains.

Tampert’s study was a longitudinal model, linearly observing the neurological development of participating teens between the ages of 12 and 14. Comparative brain scans were taken on a semi-regular basis over an extended period of time. The survey group observed in the study did not partake in alcohol or drug use at the start of the observation, but several boys and girls eventually did gain access to alcohol and develop drinking habits.

When comparing the brain development of teens who never developed a drinking habit with those that did, Tampert found that the drinking teens performed significantly worse on tests of critical thinking and memorization.

Tampert also noted a gender difference in the specific degenerative effects tracked in her study. Teenage girls who began drinking at some point during the observation, Tampert’s findings showed, performed especially badly on spatial functioning tests. Compared to the drop in spatial functioning capability that Tampert observed in teenage girls, alcohol-consuming teenage boys in Tampert’s study showed especially poor performance in tests of their ability to focus.

In the brains of both the alcohol-consuming teenage boys and girls, Tampert noticed a lower quality of white tissue and Hippocampus performance; this was attributed to poorer inter-brain cell communication and verbal information retention.

Tampert was surprised to find that the degenerative neurological effects that alcohol had on the teenagers in her study had occurred without the teens needing to binge drink. Just one or two drinks a week had been enough to cause white tissue damage and worsen the young teens’ test performance.

Teenage Susceptibility to Addiction

Aging comes with less resilience to the aftereffects of binge drinking, but while still young, teenagers are able to drink excessive amounts of alcohol without as intense or swift of an onset of nausea and headaches that an adult would typically experience.

The heightened resilience to alcohol’s negative effects can foster a potentially dangerous sense of overconfidence in their tolerance and underestimation of binge drinking’s dangers. Being more biologically sensitive to the anti-inhibitory effects of alcohol than its debilitating effects gives teens a skewed perspective on alcohol’s true nature.

Though spared the full brunt of negative somatic sensations caused by rapid alcohol abuse, the potential to develop a lifelong addiction is unparalleled. Without guidance or emotional regulation skills, heavily-drinking teens are liable to developmentally cripple their minds for life.

Teen Drinking Statistics

According to statistics collected and reported by Centers for Disease Control (CDC), alcohol is the single most commonly abused drug by American youth. CDC’s report showed that even though teenagers aren’t legally permitted to consume alcohol, just over 10 percent of the alcohol in the United States is consumed by minors between ages 12 and 20. Beyond simply partaking in casual drinks, CDC found that the majority of teen drinking is in the form of excessive binge drinking.


The available statistics indicate that teen alcohol use is far more than just an occasional problem, but any immensely prevalent problem that puts millions of youth at serious risk for self-destruction in more ways than one. The proven potential for neurological damage that alcohol can inflict on a teen’s developing brain, combined with the typicality of an impressionable teen’s low resistance to peer pressure and compulsion to explore, creates a grim implication of the potential danger that millions of America’s youth could be unwittingly putting themselves in.

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