Thursday, August 9, 2012

Heavy drinking by teens predicted by looking at brain

Heavy alcohol consumption by minors is an ongoing problem. According to recent studies, teenagers often have no sense when to stop drinking, because the physical effects of the alcohol are different when compared to adults. Because sometimes young people drink so much that they fall into an alcohol-induced coma, it is necessary to do something about it. Scientists from the University of California in San Diego discovered that future heavy drinking by youngsters can be predicted by scanning their brains.

Brain activity
A total of 40 participants aged between 12 and 16 years were admitted to the study. One of the prerequisites was that the kids had not yet started drinking alcoholic beverages. The participants were put into an MRI scanner to assess their brain activity patterns. Thereafter, they were followed for three years, after which their brain activity was scanned again.

After the follow-up period, half of the kids had started consuming alcoholic drinks. Analysis revealed that progress towards heavy drinking can be predicted by looking at brain patterns. According to the scientists, adolescents who consume a lot of alcohol showed less brain activity in certain areas before the onset of drinking. Interestingly, the brain patterns increased in activity as soon as the kids started drinking.

It is unreasonable to put all children in MRI scanners in order to assess whether they are predetermined to abuse alcohol. However, the study may help us to discover underlying problems that may promote heavy drinking. Because there seems to be an underlying biological mechanism in the brain that makes it more likely that somebody is going to abuse alcohol, we may be able to do something against it. We do first need to find out how this works exactly, but until then, there is a way to predict alcoholic troubles ahead.

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