It’s widely accepted that more than 90% of all Americans with an addiction started using substances before they were 18. Kids in Wyoming use alcohol more than any other substance, and it’s a problem that can lead to a multitude of consequences. Some are more obvious like addiction, binge drinking and legal repercussions, while others are more nuanced. Social media, assault, assault allegations and other 21st century realities make underage drinking riskier than ever. The more you add it up, the less it seems worth it.
It wasn’t uncommon for Millennials and Gen Xers to have had parents who looked the other way when it came to underage drinking. But today’s parents need to ask themselves, how much did your parents really know?
There are three periods in life when the brain undergoes major changes and is particularly susceptible to the effects of alcohol: beginning of life, beginning of aging, and adolescence. During adolescence, the prefrontal cortex undergoes extensive development, and this area of the brain regulates short-term memory, impulse control, rule learning, organization and decision-making. GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, is found throughout the brain, particularly in the frontal lobe. Healthy adolescents 12-14 have lower levels of GABA in their frontal lobes, but by late adolescence, GABA receptors mature to adult levels, which is linked to improved cognitive control, better decision-making, and less impulsiveness.
This study examined the lower frontal lobe GABA in subjects who were either binge or light drinkers through their adolescent period, and researchers discovered that these individuals had lower than average levels of GABA. Perhaps most concerning is growing evidence that this damage could be irreversible. If the parents of yesteryear would have had this information, would they have been so willing to gamble?
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Teens often drink simply because they think everyone else is doing it. Above the Influence challenges kids to question assumptions like these and asks them to critically weigh substance use and influence. This resource goes beyond underage drinking but is an excellent tool to help understand why someone might want to drink to begin with.