November 26, 2014

ADACT warns young alcohol users may face brain damage

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STANDISH — With the recent news of 11- and 12-year-old minors caught drinking a month ago in downtown Standish, the Arenac County Drug and Alcohol Taskforce believes that more information about the dangers of alcohol for minors needs to get out to the public.

ADACT Program Coordinator Lori Jacques said that heavy alcohol use by minors might have extensive and long-lasting effects on the brain, ranging from simple “slips” in memory to conditions that last a lifetime.

“The human brain continues to develop in the teen years and even into (a person’s) 20s,” she said. “Drinking alcohol during this period of growth may lead to brain damage, especially (in) memory, physical skills and coordination.”

According to Jacques, and surveys gathered by the ADACT at schools in Arenac County, nearly a quarter of seventh grade students admitted the have drunk alcohol in their lifetime. Of the 23 percent of seventh grade students who have admitted to drinking, 66.7 percent said that they received their alcohol by giving someone money to purchase it for them, while 22.2 percent said they got it from their family.

Jacques said many people believe adolescents can easily recover from consuming alcohol because, compared to adults, their bodies are more resilient.

“The opposite is true,” she said. “Young adults are especially likely to binge drink and to drink heavily. Adolescents who drink a lot of alcohol (may) end up having more memory and learning impairment than adults who drink the same amount because their brains are more pliable and easily affected by alcohol’s damage.”

According to Jacques, alcohol injects chemicals into the brain that affect important growing processes. She added that alcohol stimulates the release of dopamine, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter from the brain.

“Heavy alcohol use interferes with the brain’s ability to form memories,” Jacques said. “ Unlike adults, (adolescent brains), are still forming connections between nerve cells that play a role in memory, and alcohol may damage the development of these connections.”

Jacques advises parents to keep an eye on their children, and said that alcohol is a mood-altering drug.

“Some parents may feel relieved that their teen is ‘only’ drinking,” she said. “Not only does alcohol affect the mind and body in often unpredictable ways, but teens lack the judgment and coping skills to handle alcohol wisely.”

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