Heavy Drinking in Adolescence May Lead to Increased Impulsive Behavior

Alcohol decreases people’s inhibitions, which often leads to impulsive behavior. A new study found that in adolescent males, risky, impulsive behavior can actually increase over time after periods of heavy drinking. Adolescence is a time of important developments to the body and brain, and drinking alcohol during this time can seriously affect the development of certain parts of the brain, including regions that control decision making, understanding, and behavioral control.

Helene R. White, lead author of the study and a professor of sociology at the Center of Alcohol Studies at Rutgers University -- The State University of New Jersey, said that they wanted to find out more about whether adolescents who drink heavily present an increase in impulsive behavior. White said that heavy drinking in adolescence can lead to changes in brain structure and function that reduce impulse control, which could lead to even more heavy drinking.

White explained that the researchers chose to study males because they tend to drink more heavily than females, and also seem to have less impulse control than adolescent girls.

For the study, the researchers annually followed more than 500 first-grade boys from Pittsburgh public schools until they reached age 20. Four to five years later, they were followed up with again. The participants were asked questions about their drinking and impulsive behavior.

The study showed that adolescent boys exhibiting moderate levels of impulsive behavior (compared to lower or higher levels) had a significant increase in this behavior when they had engaged in heavy drinking during the previous year.

Andrew Littlefield, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Missouri who has studied changes in impulsive behavior due to drinking during adolescence, said that preventing adolescent drinking could decrease impulsive behavior by preventing damage to important brain regions.

The study also found that adolescents who stopped heavy drinking eventually returned to lower levels of impulsivity, suggesting that the damage is reversible, at least in terms of impulsivity. The researchers noted that more research is needed to draw final conclusions.

Source: Science Daily, Impulsive Behavior in Males Increases After Periods of Heavy Drinking, November 17, 2010

Posted on November 22nd, 2010
Posted in Alcohol Abuse

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