Brain Scan May Predict Teens’ Heavy Drinking
If you're worried about your teen becoming a heavy drinker, you may want to consider getting them a brain scan, according to a new study, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs on Wednesday.
Researchers found that the people who will become heavy drinkers have markedly different brain functions than their sober peers even before they ever have a drink. They followed a group of teenagers over three years, and found that those who became heavy drinkers, defined as four to five drinks on one occasion, showed less activity in the region of their brain used for higher-order decision making, called working memory.
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"Some teens are especially prone to heavy drinking because of differences in the way they process information," David Kerr, a researcher with the Oregon Social Learning Center, who was not involved in the study, told LiveScience "And those differences are visible in their brains, likely before they touch a bottle."
Researchers used MRI's to look into the brain of 40 teens between the ages of 12 and 16, and again three years later, after some had become heavy drinkers. They found that the brains of teens who became heavy drinkers showed less activity when compared to non-drinkers in the frontal and parietal lobes, which are involved in visual-spatial processing.
The heavy drinking took a toll on brain function as well, according to the study. The teens who drank did poorly on memory tests, researchers said.
"The heavy drinkers had to use more brainpower to complete the same task as the [non-drinking] controls," Lindsay Squeglia, lead author of the study and researcher from the University of California, San Diego, told LiveScience.
However, researchers said there is no plan to put every teen under a brain scan, and said it's important for parents to talk to their kids about alcohol.
"This isn't to say we're going to throw every kid in a [brain] scanner; that would not be cost effective," Squeglia said.
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