March 29, 2013
Tipping Up the Bottle
Penn State is on the studies about college freshmen and their alcohol use and, in many cases, abuse. Recently, I blogged about how if parents talk to their soon-to-be freshmen teenagers before college starts, then the teens are less likely to drink too much and more likely to move from heavy drinkers to lighter drinker thus minimizing their chances of alcohol abuse. But Penn State did not stop there, as an article on redOrbit reported.
A team of Penn State researchers, led by psychology graduate student Adriene Beltz, investigated the potential changes in neural processes as a result of exposure to alcohol in the brains of first-year students. The research team recruited eleven incoming freshmen students, and each underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in conjunction with effective connectivity mapping, a data analysis technique. These eleven students experienced three sessions of the fMRI and the mapping starting just before the beginning of classes and ending about midterm during the semester.
According to the Penn State press release about the study, researchers “…wanted to know if and how brain responses to alcohol cues — pictures of alcoholic beverages in this case—changed across the first year of college…and how these potential changes related to alcohol use. Moreover, we wanted our analysis approach to take advantage of the richness of fMRI data.”
What the team found was that the emotion processing networks of participants’ brains showed signs of habituating to alcohol-related stimuli. The researchers think that the changes over the emotion processing and cognitive control areas due to alcohol use, and even just alcohol-related cues, might influence the decision-making skills and judgment abilities of teenagers and young adults whose cognitive development is not really fully complete until their mid-20s. In short, their brains show that alcohol impacts more than just their livers; it also negatively impacts neural development well into adulthood.
Because teenagers and young adults do not have fully developed cognitive abilities, they make poor judgment choices. We have all been there. Whether we do not make it to class every meeting, go to parties we would not normally attend, date someone who is more dangerous or just daring than we are used to, or get in trouble with the law, almost all young adults have mad poor decisions.
For some, these bad decisions take a lifetime to overcome, but they are natural because our brains are still developing. That is not an excuse to be irresponsible, but it does explain why as adults we look back and think, “What the hell was I thinking!?!” However, compound underdeveloped cognitive abilities with alcohol use and alcohol-related cues and these young adults are in a world of hurt. They not only lower their inhibitions with alcohol, but they also hurt their growth.
College freshmen have their first taste of freedom when they go to school. They do not have parents (or guardians otherwise) to tell them what to do and how to do it, thus many of them tip up the bottle. However, the brain maps are showing that this has a longer lasting and farther reaching impact than we previously thought.
Image Credit: Photos.com