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Effects of Alcohol on the Developing & Teenage Brain2024-05-08T13:53:38-04:00

Effects Of Alcohol On The Developing & Teenage Brain

Learn more about the risks of underage drinking

Alcohol And The
Developing Brain

The human brain doesn’t fully mature until about age 25 — therefore, alcohol impacts the adolescent brain differently than it does the adult brain.

Access the statewide report on the effects of alcohol on the adolescent brain, developed in partnership with experts from the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Duke University Social Sciences Research Institute, Duke University Medical Center, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

Did You Know?

Chances of developing a substance use disorder:


Kids who begin drinking before age 15


Someone who waits until age 21

Drinking alcohol can
cause a decrease in brain activity

These brain scans show functional activity levels in the brain of a healthy non-drinker (left), and a sober 21-year-old with a four-year history of heavy alcohol use (right). The “holes” indicate areas of reduced brain activity.
© Dr. Daniel Amen;

Effects of Alcohol on Teenage Brain

Fast Facts

  • Emotional areas of the brain mature before the frontal cortex (which helps to manage impulse control). This is the reason for adolescent thrill-seeking, risky decision-making, and recklessness.

  • Due to the immaturity of the frontal cortex, adolescents are more responsive to the promise of rewards and threats (especially social threats), than adults. They also place more importance on short-term rewards over future benefits.

  • This “brain imbalance” is the reason adolescents prioritize their peers’ opinions and why they are more likely to react without considering the consequences.

  • Alcohol slows down brain activity, and the negative effect of alcohol lasts longer in a teenager’s brain than in an adult’s (up to two weeks).

  • When a teenager uses alcohol, they risk the normal development of good judgment and impulse control.

  • Underage drinking can also damage the memory and learning areas of the brain.

Underage Drinking: Short-Term Impairment

  • Adolescents are less sedated by alcohol than adults.

  • Alcohol reduces “social anxiety” more so in adolescents than adults.

  • These factors make adolescents more likely to binge drink than adults.

  • Alcohol affects learning and interferes with other “brain health” behaviors, undoing the benefits of good health habits.

  • Binge drinking in adolescents leads to negative consequences such as blackouts (loss of memory from the event), unplanned and unwanted sexual activity, fights, accidents, and driving after consuming alcohol.

Underage Drinking: Long-term Consequences

  • Underage drinking inhibits the process by which the hippocampus forms new cells.

  • Binge levels of alcohol consumption in adolescence can alter brain development and brain function.

  • Adolescent alcohol use increases the activation of brain signals that contribute to inflammation.

  • The younger someone starts drinking, the greater the chance they will misuse substances later in life.

  • Alcohol can cause specific changes in the brain that potentially increase the risk of alcohol-use problems.

How Alcohol Can Effect an Athlete

  • Alcohol can hurt your performance for up to 72 hours (about 3 days) after you consume alcohol causing you to react slower on the field
  • Chronic alcohol use can depress the immune system increasing risk of injury
  • Alcoholic drinks contain lots of empty calories therefore increasing fat

  • Regular Alcohol use can lead to difficulty processing and storing memories, which can affect your ability to learn plays or do well in school
  • Regular consumption of alcohol can damage long-term performance by causing muscle loss and weakness

  • Drinking to celebrate a big win slows down post-game recovery

Underage Drinking Affects More Than Just The Brain

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