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Heavy Alcohol use Alters Brain Activity Among Teens

Clinically Reviewed By Dan Schimmel, LCSW, CAP
Updated On




The University of Eastern Finland researchers have recently found that substantial alcohol use among teens can have significant impacts on brain activity.

The researchers from the university conducted a study show the effects of longstanding extreme alcohol use in teens and adolescences.  The study found that the heavy use of alcohol can actually alter certain brain functions.

The Study

This study, which is actually the first study like this, looked at the longstanding effect of heavy alcohol use among teens. The results went on to show that there are signs that the strong use of alcohol can alter the cortical excitability and functional connectivity in the teens brain. This research was done as part of the Adolescents and Alcohol Study.

The alterations in the cortical excitability and functional connectivity changes in the brain happened in otherwise vigorous teens who were heavy alcohol users. These teens although heavy drinkers, did not meet the standards for someone with a substance abuse disorder.

The study was done by following 27 teens between the ages of 13 to 18 years old, who were substantial drinkers, throughout their teens. The study also had 25 controls, who were the same age, gender and education level.  The controls were not however drinkers and they had little to no alcohol use.

The participants in the study had their brain activity analyzed at the ages of 23 to 28, using transcranial magnetic stimulation otherwise known as TMS. The researchers also used simultaneous electroencephalogram (EEG) to study brain activity. Using those tools the researchers were able to produce tests to show how the different areas of the cortex reacted to the stimulation and identify the connectivity between different areas of the brain.

The Results

When the results were in, researchers found that the cortical response to the TMS pulse was more intense in general electrical activity in the cortex and went on to show superior activity of the gamma-aminobutyric acid, also known as GABA in the neurotransmission system of those who were heavy drinkers. Results of the tests also went on to show the variances in how this neurotransmission system activity spanned across the different regions of the brain.

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a key neurotransmitter that hinders the brain and central nervous system functions, it has also shown that it might cause anxiety, depression and other neurological disorders.

The findings went on to show that heavy alcohol use causes changes in the electrical and chemical neurotransmission of the participants they studied.

Studies that were conducted earlier, showed that heavy alcohol use among teens and adolescences will have a detrimental effect and alters the function of the GABA neurotransmission system. This could cause cortical thinning even on those who do not meet the standards for having a substance disorder.

With these results researchers are now questioning what the criteria is for substance abuse disorders and if it should be lowered or altered for teens. Overall the results were evident and show that if you are a teen that partakes in heavy alcohol use you can alter your brain activity in a negative way.

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