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Alcohol & the Adolescent Brain

April 28, 2015

Heavy drinking before the age of 25 may lead to lasting changes in parts of the brain critical for memory and learning.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

emphasizing-hippocampus Henry Gray 1918 Anatomy of the Human Body Public Domain

The hippocampus is important for learning and memory. (Henry Gray, 1918: Anatomy of the Human Body/Public Domain)

Early drinking can have lifelong effects. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Even brief episodes of heavy drinking during adolescence can cause life-long changes to the brain, according to Duke University neurobiologist Louise Risher and her colleagues, writing in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. Working with lab rats, the scientists found that adult rats had physical changes to the hippocampus – a brain structure involved in learning and memory—if they had been exposed to high alcohol levels for just two weeks when they were young.

LOUISE RISHER (Duke University):

If you can’t fundamentally remember things, or learn things on a basic level, then it affects all higher cognitive function.

HIRSHON:

What’s more, she says that when it comes to the human brain, adolescence goes well beyond the teen years. The brain is incomplete and sensitive to the effects of alcohol until the mid-twenties. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.