Alcohol_youth

The ages of alcohol

At this time of year, the streets are running with rivers of alcohol. Christmas parties have run into end of year parties which are turning into New Year’s parties: and the common denominator is alcohol. It is a time of year that highlights the effects of this drug and new research has now shown why teenagers are differently affected by it when compared to adults.

There has been a lot of media attention recently on attempts to address alcohol driven violence among young people. It has been known for some time that teenagers are less sensitive to some of the effects of alcohol and this reduced sensitivity could be contributing to the problems. While the knowledge that teenagers are affected differently is not new, the new research has discovered exactly why it is so.

The area in which teenagers are less sensitive to alcohol than adults is motor impairment. That is, teenagers take longer to lose muscular control than do adults and this means that they are less aware of the effects of alcohol and may be consequently more likely to keep drinking to dangerous levels where other psychological impacts of alcohol come into play.

Binge drinking rates peak at 21 to 25 years of age and so understanding how alcohol effects teenagers differently is a major social concern.

After new research neuropsychologists at Baylor University have uncovered why there is a difference between teenagers and adults. It all comes down to a particular neuron called the cerebellar Purkinje neuron.

In teenagers the firing rate of cerebellar Purkinje neurons is not affected by large amounts of alcohol but in adults alcohol causes firing rates of Purkinje neurons to drop by around twenty per cent. This change in Purkinje neuron activity is enough to cause impaired motor activity. So while adults start to stumble and fumble and perhaps realise they have had enough, teenagers will be largely unaffected and may go on drinking to dangerous levels.

It is likely that Purkinje neuron firing rates are not the sole reason for the difference between alcohol’s impacts on teenagers and adults. It does establish though that it is not a matter of different blood alcohol levels but different reaction of brain components to the alcohol that is present.

Given the problems that youth consumption of alcohol is presenting, coming to a clearer understanding of how alcohol operates in the teenage body is vital.

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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