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How alcohol affects the adolescent brain

The cosmic shift in children’s' behavior and personality as they get older, undergoing the hormonal, cognitive and behavioral changes of adolescence, occurs secondarily to the brain’s physiologic changes during the period of maturation in teens. Risk taking increases at the onset of adolescence in normal children which helps prepare the child for independence from parents and for making more mature, constructive decisions in future novel situations.   All children, especially anxious (ie risk-averse) ones can be influenced by their peers' behavior, whether that includes drinking or not.

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What should a concerned parent do? They could use the very well-established findings of neuroscience research to back up their pleas to avoid the immediate dangers of drinking. Since the teenage brain won't feel the negative cues to stop a drinking session that an adult would, teens have to help each other hold off consumption. They should also be warned that drinking certain drinks (such as combining alcohol with energy drinks) may set them up for increased lifetime consumption of alcohol and sugar, risking obesity.  Hearing this from a popular peer or having people around whose behavior is modeled on this is likely to be more successful than listening to parents, teachers, or coaches.

Barbara Koppel is a Professor of Clinical Neurology at New York Medical College and Chief of Neurology at Metropolitan Hospital in New York, NY.

*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility ( or any member.*

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