November 17, 2010

Too Many Drinks = Too Many Risks

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- When someone gets a few too many drinks in their system, their behavior becomes far more impulsive.  In fact, a recent study shows that adolescent males who engage in heavy drinking behavior are more likely to engage in risk-taking behavior as well.  These results could lead to imperative work on the relationship between the amount of alcohol ingested and the rather impetuous behavior that occurs during adolescence.

As you know, the adolescent period is a significant time of change for the individual experiencing it.  Ultimately, some of the most vital changes occur within the prefrontal cortex of the brain, where decision making, understanding and utmost behavioral control reside.  This period of change is a time where most adolescents begin to drink.  This can have detrimental effects on brain development.

The study attempted to fill a gap in current knowledge regarding whether human adolescents who drink profusely show an increase in impulsive behavior.  "Heavy alcohol use in adolescence may lead to alterations in brain structure and function that reduce behavioral (impulse) control, which could, in turn, promote further heavy drinking," Helene R. White, a professor of sociology at the Center of Alcohol Studies at Rutgers University was quoted as saying.  "We chose boys because they tend to drink heavier than girls during adolescence, and adolescent boys generally exhibit less impulse control than adolescent girls."

The study followed more than 500 first grade boys from the City of Pittsburgh public school until age 20, with an additional follow-up four to five years later.  White and her team used questionnaires and interviews to obtain information regarding subject's drinking and impulsive behavior.  This allowed them to determine the correlation (if any) between alcohol and impulsive behavior.

The results showed that adolescent boys exhibiting moderate levels of impulsive behavior "“ opposed to low or high groups "“ displayed an increase in impulsive behavior when engaging in heavy drinking the previous year.

"These studies highlight the importance of prevention," Andrew Littlefield, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Missouri who has published papers comparing changes in impulsivity to alterations in drinking behavior during young adulthood was quoted as saying. "Decreasing heavy drinking during adolescence may decrease impulsivity by preventing damage to crucial brain areas. Findings also suggested that adolescents who stopped heavy drinking later "rebounded" to lower levels of impulsivity. Therefore, decreasing drinking during adolescence could result in improved self-control at later ages."

These results are the foremost step in research regarding impulsivity and heavy drinking, and according to White, additional research is required before any definitive conclusions are drawn.

SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, February 2011