Following a recent study that was conducted at the University of Eastern Finland, researchers discovered that adolescents who have been heavily consuming alcohol for a long period of time may experience certain altered brain functions. No study of this kind has been performed in the past. The researchers analyzed the effects of long-term heavy consumption of alcohol specifically in adolescents. The study, which was a part of the relatively larger Adolescents and Alcohol Study, revealed that heavy alcohol consumption can alter the adolescent brain’s cortical excitability and functional connectivity.
The adolescents who experienced these alterations in their brain activity where otherwise healthy. Although they did not meet the criteria to be diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder, they had been consuming huge amounts of alcohol for a long period of time. This study included 27 particular adolescents who had begun drinking alcohol between the ages of 13 and 18, and through their teen years, they were heavy alcohol consumers. The control group that was a part of this study included 25 other adolescents of the same age, education level and gender, who bare or did not consume any alcohol.
Researchers began analyzing the brain activity of these participants when they were 23 years old and continued doing so until they reached the age of 28. For the analysis, they used simultaneous electroencephalogram (EEG) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). These tests reveal electrical stimulation causes various regions of the cortex to react and help pinpoint the functional connectivities between those regions.
These tests revealed that the TMS pulse result in a stronger cortical response. It also revealed that among the heavy alcohol consumers, there was an overall greater activity in the cortex, and of the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmission system. Based on results, it was also noted that different regions of the brain had varying levels of activity.
GABA happens to be a neurotransmitter that obstructs brain and central nervous system function, which makes it quite crucial and integral. It may result in the develop of a number of neurological disorders, including anxiety and depression. Based on the results of the study, the adolescents who participated also experienced alterations in the chemical and electrical neurotransmission in their brain as a result of their heavy alcohol consumption.
Even studies that have conducted in the past have revealed that heavy alcohol consumption results in a number of potentially damaging and harmful effects. Foremost, they concluded that the functional of the GABA neurotransmission system is altered. They have also revealed that it may even result in cortical thinning. The worst of it all is that none of these adolescents who are heavy alcohol consumers fit the criteria to be diagnosed as suffering from a substance abuse disorder.
This has led researchers to raise a lot of questions about criteria that is presently in use to diagnose substance abuse disorders. They are even suggesting that perhaps the criteria needs to be changed for adolescents to prevent these detrimental effects related to heavy alcohol consumption from further damaging their brains. Moreover, there should perhaps also be a simpler criteria for referring such adolescents to treatment.