"The brain goes through dynamic change during adolescence [ages 12-21] and alcohol can seriously damage long- and short-term growth processes." (American Medical Association Fact Sheet, 2003)
New imaging machines, such as MRIs, PET, and SPECT scans, have given scientists exciting views into the development of the human brain. While we once thought the brain was fully developed at birth, now we know that the brain continues to develop until the mid-twenties. New scientific research has also shown that alcohol affects a teen's still-developing brain differently than an adult brain and can harm brain development. Alcohol slows down brain activity; and the negative affect of alcohol lasts far longer in a teen brain than in an adult (up to two weeks). If a teen uses alcohol before his or her brain is fully developed, it can keep the good judgment and impulse-control part of the brain from properly developing or "wiring." It can also damage the memory and learning areas of the brain; and it greatly increases the risk of alcohol addiction. Underage drinking also increases the risk of mental illness, and contributes to other anti-social behavior. More teens die as a result of alcohol use than all other illegal drugs combined (Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, 2002). As a result of this new research, the American Medical Association issued the following statement to the right. (Click here to read the entire AMA Fact Sheet.)
In response to a growing national concern over the new teen alcohol-brain-damage research, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a "Call to Action" in early 2007 declaring: "I have issued this 'Surgeon General's Call to Action To Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking to focus national attention on... new, disturbing research which indicates that the developing adolescent brain may be particularly susceptible to long-term negative consequences from alcohol use.
Recent studies show that alcohol consumption has the potential to trigger long-term biological changes that may have detrimental effects on the developing adolescent brain, including neuro-cognitive impairment. ... Adolescent alcohol use is not an acceptable rite of passage but a serious threat to adolescent development and health."
(Click here to read the entire Surgeon General's Call to Action.)
In Utah, many kids now begin drinking in elementary school, and binge drinking is a common activity by the 10th grade.1 This alarming information comes from the SHARP Survey - Student Health and Risk Assessment - given bi-annually to students in Utah public schools; and it shows a very concerning trend. Most parents, however, are unaware of their child's alcohol use. They think, "Not my kid." In a national survey, 31 percent of kids who said they had been drunk in the past year had parents who believed their children were non-drinkers.
Parents often believe that their church teachings or school policies keep their kids from using alcohol, but too often that is not the case. To add to the problem, Utah parents usually begin talking to their children about not drinking alcohol two years too late. It is important to set rules early about not drinking alcohol--before age eight is ideal. Parents then need to monitor children to make sure those rules are kept.