Adolescence and the trajectory of alcohol use: Basic to clinical studies

  • Brown S
  • Tapert S
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Emerging findings from developmentally focused research indicates subtle but important neurocognitive disadvantages among adolescents with alcohol-use disorders (AUD) as compared to teens without AUD. Even after 3 weeks of abstinence AUD youth display a 10% decrement in delayed memory functions. Neuropsychological testing of youth followed at 4 and 8 years demonstrates that heavy drinking during adolescence is associated with diminished retrieval of verbal and nonverbal material, and poorer performance on tests requiring attention skills. Alcohol withdrawal over the teen years appears to uniquely contribute to deterioration in functioning in visuospatial tasks. Brain imaging studies suggest reduced hippocampal volumes, white matter microstructure irregularities, brain response abnormalities while performing challenging cognitive tasks, and enhanced brain response when viewing alcohol cues (i.e., alcohol advertisements) among adolescents with AUD. Family characteristics such as history of alcoholism and socioeconomic status as well as personal features, including adolescent psychopathology, gender, and age of onset must be carefully considered when investigating the influence of teenage drinking on neurocognition. Further research is needed to understand how age at onset of drinking and duration of abstinence at the time of assessment affect cognitive findings. Longitudinal studies are needed to clarify neuromaturational changes associated with early alcohol exposure and patterns of resiliency. Although the magnitude of alcohol-related effects observed in adolescents' neurocognition is relatively modest, the implications are major given the prevalence of alcohol involvement, and the important educational, occupational, and social transitions that occur during adolescence.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Adolescence
  • Alcohol
  • Development
  • Neurocogntition
  • fMRI

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  • Sandra A. Brown

  • Susan F. Tapert

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