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Alcohol’s Effect on the Teenage Brain

Alcohol’s Effect on the Teenage Brain

Alcohol’s Effect on the Teenage Brain

What can happen to a teen who drinks underage? Are there any risks to drinking under 21? What’s so dangerous about it? Many people, if they are honest, will admit that they’ve asked this question at some point in their lives.

But the truth is that underage drinking is a dangerous choice. Countless research studies about teen drinking have come out in the past few decades. These studies all point to the fact that alcohol does more damage to a teen’s brain and body than you may realize.

When a teen chooses to drink, they are not only breaking the law. They are also doing significant damage to their bodies and their future.

For starters, a teen who drinks runs the risk of causing developmental damage to their brain. On top of that, they can also ruin their chances of reaching many milestones in life.

It is your job to make sure that your teen knows the facts about how underage drinking affects your teen.

Here are some of the ways that drinking under 21 can hurt your teen’s brain and body:

Brain Development

It is important for parents to keep in mind that the teenage brain is not completely developed. According to researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center, the brain is not done developing until the age of 25. Because teen brains are going through so many changes, introducing alcohol to them can be dangerous.

Since their brains are not finished growing, teen’s minds can’t handle alcohol as well as an adult’s. This can lead to a lot of damage.

Learning and Memory

According to the NIH, the hippocampus is one of the first places in the brain that alcohol harms. The hippocampus handles learning and memory.

Repeated teen drinking can cause the hippocampus to lose some of its ability to function. Heavy teen drinking will reduce the volume of the hippocampus.

This means that a teenager will find it harder to remember things and learn new information. This can happen even after they’re done drinking. This can directly affect their performance at school or work.

Taking tests and paying attention in class can difficult enough for students. Adding alcohol to the mix will make school difficult. Teens who drink can develop problems with learning and memory. This will lead to problems with keeping good grades and getting into college.

A 2016 study found that excessive teen drinking hindered verbal learning and memory. The more that teens binge drink, the worse their verbal learning and memory becomes.

Making Decisions

The frontal lobe is another area of the brain that’s damaged when exposed to alcohol early in life (NIH). This section of the brain controls impulses. It handles a person’s ability to think through the decisions they make.

If a teen has a damaged frontal lobe, they are likely to make poor decisions and less likely to problem solve well. They may also experience a lack of self-control and may find themselves lashing out in a violent way. But those traits don’t stop there. These characteristics have the potential to stick with a teen through adulthood.


A teen who begins drinking underage is also susceptible to addiction (CDC). A teen who starts drinking before age 15 is six times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than a teen who waits to drink until age 21.

Managing Stress

Loyola University Health System researchers found that alcohol may permanently change brain connections. These connections help with normal, adult brain function.

When teens drink, they can alter the system that produces the hormones they need to respond to stress. This changes can lead to anxiety and depression later in life.

Learning to cope with stress is hard for any teen. Adding alcohol to their body will only make things harder for them now, and in the future.


The University of Missouri (MU) conducted a study in 2011 to see alcohol’s effects on brain activity. They found that alcohol dulls a brain “alarm,” or signal. This signal’s purpose is to warn people when they are making a mistake. Dulling this signal by drinking will reduce a teen’s self-control.

This study also found alcohol reduces how much you care about the mistakes you’re making as you make them. Alcohol will reduce your teen’s ability to feel regret at appropriate times.

Drinking alcohol affects the brain in many ways, which changes your teen’s behavior.

If you are thinking about allowing your child to drink underage, we hope you’ll think twice. Consider these consequences that can happen to their body. What seems harmless now, could lead to major trouble for your teen in the future.