Brain Studies Can Tell Which Teens May Become Alcoholic Before They Have Their First Drink

Jim Liebelt | Senior Writer, Editor and Researcher for the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University | Thursday, November 20, 2014

Brain Studies Can Tell Which Teens May Become Alcoholic Before They Have Their First Drink

*The following is excerpted from an online article from Youth Health.

Many studies have uncovered the harmful and even long-term effects of teenage drinking. However, not much study has yet been conducted on identifying teens that are most at risk to drink or become problem drinkers or alcoholics in the future.

Two neuroscientists, John VanMeter of Georgetown University Medical Center and Diana Fishbein of University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM), along with their colleagues have completed several studies they believe they have identified brain characteristics that when found in teens may point to possible alcohol abuse even before they have their first drink of alcohol.

The research was composed of different brain studies, including the link between impulsivity and abnormal connections of the brain, the link between impulse and the amount of omega-3 fatty acid and sugar the teen has, and the lack of proper connection among important components of a brain network.

More than 130 girls and boys in their preteens or teens participated in the studies. The average age was 12.6 years old. Aside from undergoing MRI scans to detect the structure and performance of their brain, they also underwent a series of tests that measure their level of impulse and preference to either immediate or delayed incentive.

According to the results, to be formally presented in the upcoming Washington meeting among members of the Society of Neuroscience, an impaired ECN (executive control network) of the brain correlates to drinking while still young as well as the frequency of drinking alcohol. However, the study did not suggest that such impairment develops prior to drinking.

Another study showed the relationship between the connectivity between the insular and prefrontal cortices and level of impulsivity. Less connection between these two regions of the brain means a higher level of impulsivity, a problem that can happen even before alcohol abuse.

Researchers also learned that participants who eat too much sugar in their diet tend to prefer immediate rewards and more active hypothalamus, right insula, and right superior gyrus, sections of the brain that govern rewards, impulse, and emotion.

Source: Youth Health