A Threat to Teen Brains

Alcohol's harms are worse for young people.


Everyone knows the deleterious effects of heavy drinking. But the effects are far more pronounced for young people. That's because research shows that the brain doesn't fully develop until the mid-20s.

The areas that show the most change between the teens and mid-20s are the brain's frontal lobes, which are central to planning, decision making, impulse control, and language. This physiological transformation helps explain why even level-headed teens are prone to riskier behavior, a tendency only aggravated by alcohol.

The consequences are both short- and long-term. Young drinkers are more likely to drive drunk, get into fights, or engage in unprotected or unwanted sex. And alcohol-related incidents remain the leading cause of death among teens, from car accidents (38 percent), homicides (32 percent), and suicides (6 percent).

Over the long haul, early alcohol consumption can hurt brain development. And the earlier youths begin drinking, the more likely they are to have chronic alcohol and other health problems.

Teenagers who start drinking before age 15 are four times as likely to become alcoholics as those who wait until they are 21. And those who drink at a young age are more likely to have other substance abuse problems as well.