How Does Alcohol Affect Decision Making? 8 Ways Underage Drinking Changes Your Thinking


Drinking alcohol is something that teens can’t afford to take lightly. The decision to drink alcohol underage comes with potentially dangerous consequences. As a teenager or a young adult who’s below the legal drinking age, it’s especially important to be aware of the harmful effects of alcohol and how it can change your way of thinking. So, how exactly does alcohol affect decision-making? Let’s find out!

How Does Alcohol Affect the Developing Brain?

Many questions surround alcohol and what can happen to teens’ bodies if they consume it. Some of the most common questions about teenage alcohol consumption are, “Can it physically affect your brain?” and, “How does alcohol affect decision-making?”

Anytime a teen drinks alcohol, small changes can occur in the brain — some of which may result in long-lasting effects on brain function. As a teen who drinks, you’re also affecting your decision-making abilities. That’s because alcohol makes it harder for you to have complete control of your body.

For teenagers, the effects of alcohol are particularly dangerous. Some of these impairments include:

  1. Loss of ability to control balance: Underage drinking inhibits motor function and slows reaction time, both of which are controlled by the cerebellum in the brain. When someone experiences decreased motor function, they may make riskier decisions, thinking they are still as much in control of their body as they are when they’re sober.
  2. Impaired memory: The cerebellum also aids in memory creation. Just as your balance is impaired when drinking, so is your ability to make memories. Staying sober and making memories you’ll actually remember is so much more fun!
  3. Impaired speech: When alcohol inhibits motor function, speech can also be inhibited. Slurred words and difficulty stringing sentences together make fuzzy decisions even harder to express. Especially for teens, it can lead to risky situations in which they may not be able to express themselves properly.
  4. Lack of judgment: Our brains don’t fully develop until age 25. The prefrontal cortex is one of the main areas still developing in adolescence. This part of the brain controls judgment, behavior, and impulse control. Add alcohol to a still-developing part of the brain and the resulting concoction can produce difficulty with planning, time management, paying attention, and the ability to make good decisions. One of the worst decisions a person can make after drinking alcohol is to get behind the wheel of a car. Your brain can convince you that you’re “okay to drive” when that is far from reality.
  5. Impulse control: When you’re under the age of 25, the brain’s “fight or flight” system is also still developing. Heavy drinking during the teenage years can produce long-lasting chemical changes affecting how your brain reacts to stress later in life.
  6. Acting out in anger: Different people respond to alcohol in different ways. Sometimes, people drink too much, and it results in feelings of anger. Long-term alcohol misuse can alter the brain’s ability to respond to stress, making you more prone to feelings of anger. This can lead to physical altercations that result in injuries to yourself or others as well as legal repercussions.
  7. Substance misuse: How does alcohol affect decision-making when it comes to experimenting with other substances? By impairing your judgment at a young age, it can make other substances look even more enticing, especially while you’re already under the influence. Drugs and other harmful substances are always a bad idea but can be especially dangerous if mixed with alcohol.
  8. Addiction: Chronic teenage alcohol misuse can lead to Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). Addiction can impact your physical and mental health and personal relationships. The cycle of addiction can be difficult to overcome without professional help.

Risks of Binge Drinking

You may have heard of the term “binge drinking.” Binge drinking means you are consuming multiple drinks in one sitting. This is common at parties or tailgates where teens are drinking to get drunk.

When people participate in binge drinking, they can trigger alcohol-induced blackouts, experience gaps in memory, and cause long-term damage to their bodies. Underage binge drinking can also lead to an overdose, which often includes seizures, vomiting, and difficulty breathing, and can even be life-threatening.

It’s important to remember that you can still participate in the fun with your friends while staying safe and sober. Binge drinking is never a safe or smart choice.

Take the Pledge & Take Control

It is important to be aware of the risks and consequences that come with making the choice to drink. Now that you know more about how alcohol affects decision-making, grab a friend and join us in Taking the Pledge against underage drinking!