Brain activity may predict teens' heavy drinking problem

Brain activity patterns could predict if teens will develop heavy drinking problems, a new study has found.

A study done by researchers at the State University of New Jersey has found and also reinforced the message that heavy drinking may affect young people’s brains right at the time when they need to be working efficiently.

“It’s interesting because it suggests there might be some pre-existing vulnerability,” lead author Lindsay M Squeglia said.

Heavy drinking is known to affect teenagers’ developing brains, but certain patterns of brain activity may also help predict which kids are at risk of becoming problem drinkers.
Using special MRI scans, researchers looked at forty 12- to 16-year-olds who had not started drinking yet, then followed them for about 3 years and scanned them again.

Half of the teens started to drink alcohol fairly heavily during this interval. The researchers found that kids who had initially showed less activation in certain brain areas were at greater risk for becoming heavy drinkers in the next three years.

Then once the teens started drinking, their brain activity looked like the heavy drinkers’ in the other studies – that is, their brains showed more activity as they tried to perform memory tests.

This pattern of heavy drinking typically included episodes of having four or more drinks on an occasion for females and five or more drinks for males.

“That’s the opposite of what you’d expect, because their brains should be getting more efficient as they get older,” said lead researcher Lindsay M. Squeglia, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Diego.

The findings add to evidence that heavy drinking has consequences for teenagers’ developing brains. There may be brain activity patterns that predict which kids are at increased risk for heavy drinking.

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