The brains of teenage drinkers often aren’t as active as the brains of nondrinkers, even when sober.Watch: For a teen, it's poison.
The image below tells the whole story. Slide to see the differences in brain activity between a drinker and nondrinker. Red areas indicate more brain activity.
The “hippocampus” is the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory. Because this part of the brain is still developing during the teenage years, alcohol can do irreversible damage to a teen’s learning and memory center.1 The earlier the brain is exposed to alcohol, the more permanent damage is done.
When comparing brain images, doctors can see that teens who began drinking at an earlier age had consistently smaller hippocampi compared to those who began drinking later. Teens who had been drinking heavier and longer had as much as 10 percent smaller hippocampi compared to nondrinkers.2 Smaller hippocampi equals a harder time with learning new things, memorizing and storing new information. Early brain damage means that frequent drinkers may never be able to catch up in adulthood, which can put them at a disadvantage in their relationships and careers.3
The “prefrontal cortex,” or forehead area of the brain, is responsible for controlling behavior. This includes planning, judgment, decision making and impulse control. It’s no surprise that alcohol can have a deep effect on these behaviors. During the teenage years, the brain is going through a great deal of change, which plays an important role in forming adult personality and behavior. Damage from alcohol during these pivotal years can cause severe behavioral and personality changes that can be long term or permanent.4
Underage drinking can hinder proper brain development, damaging the good judgment area of the brain that controls urges and harming a person’s memory ability. While the damage may not show up right away, underage drinkers may have a clear disadvantage when it comes to problem-solving, memorizing and other mental tasks later in life.
Believe it or not, teens still listen to their parents. In fact, kids usually listen to their parents more than anybody else, including their friends. You are the number one reason your kids won’t drink. That’s a lot of influence.