Teen Brain

The Developing Brain

Alcohol and the Teen Brain

The human brain continues to grow into a person's early 20s.  Drinking alcohol during that time can damage short and long-term brain growth and that damage can be permanent.1 And it's not just heavy drinking that can impact teens -- teens who drink half as much alcohol as adults can still suffer the same negative effects.2 Teens are more likely to suffer blackouts, memory loss, and alcohol poisoning from drinking, as well as to cause damage to their ability to remember things in the future.3  All parts of the growing brain are impacted negatively by alcohol, but the memory function is especially hard hit.

So, what impacts does that have on a teen?  Well, adolescent drinkers perform worse in school, are more likely to fall behind and have an increased risk of social problems, depression, suicidal thoughts and violence.4  Also, because the brain (specifically, the regulation of the brain through serotonin, which provides balance and impulse control) becomes used to the use of alcohol, people who begin drinking in their teens are not only at greater risk for developing alcoholism sometime in their lives, they are also at greater risk for developing alcoholism more quickly and at younger ages, especially chronic, relapsing alcoholism.3,5


1. Brown SA, Tapert SF, Granholm E, Delis DC (2000).  "Neurocognitive functioning of adolescents: Effects of protracted alcohol use."  Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.  24 (2): 164-171.

2. Pyapali GK, Turner DA, Wilson WA, and Swartzwelder, SH (1999).  "Age and dose-dependent effects of ethanol on the induction of hippocampal long-term potentiation."  Alcohol.  19 (2): 107-11.

3. White, A (2001). Duke University Medical Center , Durham , NC . Alcohol and adolescent brain development.

4. American Medical Association (AMA) (2002).  Fact Sheet from an AMA Report on Alcohol’s Adverse Effects on the Brains of Children, Adolescents and College Students

5. Hingson, Ralph, et al.   “Age of First Intoxication, Heavy Drinking, Driving after Drinking and Risk of Unintentional Injury among US College Students.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 64 no 1 (2003), 23+.