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Alcohol and Your Brain

Have you ever wondered why you have to be 16 to get your driver’s license or 18 to vote or 21 to legally drink alcohol?

It’s partly because your brain is not ready to take on these responsibilities, since your brain is not fully developed when you’re a teen.

During the teen years, essential parts of the brain are still forming—like the prefrontal cortex, which allows people to weigh the pros and cons of situations instead of acting on impulse. This is one reason why teens are generally more likely to take risks than adults.

For example, with alcohol, teens may be less able to judge when to stop drinking. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tells us that each year, more than 4,600 alcohol-related deaths occur among those less than 21 years old. That is way too many.

Research shows that alcohol and other drugs change the brain’s structure and how it works in the short and long term. In the short term, drugs affect your brain’s judgment and decision-making abilities, while long-term use causes brain changes that can set people up for addiction and other problems. The brains of people who become addicted get altered so that drugs are now their top priority—and they will compulsively seek and use drugs even though doing so brings devastating consequences for their lives and for those who care about them.

Do yourself a favor and use your brain to make smart choices, and achieve your full potential in life.

During the teen years and well into the twenties, it’s a scientific fact that abusing most drugs while your brain is still developing can change the brain’s structure and how it works in both the short and long term.

Teens and Alcohol

about 20% of teens are "problem drinkers." This means that they:

Studies have shown that up to 6% of teens in the United States can be considered dependent or abusing alcohol. This means they have withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop or reduce their drinking, and they drink compulsively despite negative consequences.

A person's alcohol use is primarily influenced by attitudes developed during the childhood and teen years. It is impacted by:

The Immediate Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream quickly. The absorption rate depends on the amount and type of food in your stomach. For example, high-carbohydrate and high-fat foods lessen the absorption rates. A carbonated alcoholic drink, like champagne, will be absorbed faster than a non-carbonated drink.

The effects of alcohol may appear within 10 minutes and peak at approximately 40 - 60 minutes. Alcohol stays in the bloodstream until it is broken down by the liver. If a person consumes alcohol at a faster rate than the liver can break it down, the blood alcohol concentration level rises.

Each state has its own legal definition for alcohol intoxication,which is defined by blood alcohol concentration. The legal limit usually falls between 0.08 and 0.10 in most states. Different levels lead to different effects:

Alcohol depresses your breathing rate, heart rate,and the control mechanisms in your brain. The effects include:

If a pregnant woman drinks, alcohol can adversely affect the developing fetus. Alcohol can cause birth defects or fetal alcohol syndrome(a disorder marked by mental retardation and behavior problems).

The Health Risks

Alcohol increases the risks of:

When Abuse Becomes Dependence

People who drink alcohol (or who live with individuals who consume alcohol) may want to seek help for themselves or their loved ones if the following occur with drinking:

It is also important to remember that some people are at higher risk for alcoholism due to:

Call Your Health Provider if:

Other resources include: