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The serious effects of alcohol on the teenage brain

As teenagers, people quickly discover newfound freedoms and the ability to make their own choices rather than relying on parents for rules. For some, making decisions is tough and even against the law in some cases. To legally consume alcohol in Texas, people must be at least 21 years of age, but many opt to experiment with alcohol earlier. What they may not understand is the serious effects that alcohol can have on the developing teenage brain.

Know the stages of brain development

Parts of the brain mature at different times, and it continues to develop throughout the mid-20s. During the teenage years, brain development causes drastic changes in the physiology, wiring and structure of the brain. Changes like this can affect anything from judgment to emotionality to sexuality.

The brain's limbic system is responsible for regulating emotions and may lower a teenager's risk sensitivity. The limbic system develops before the frontal lobes, which control reasoning, problem-solving, self-regulations, impulse control and judgment. This often means that teenagers make risky decisions with hefty consequences before the brain is developed enough to stop them.

The ways alcohol can change brain development

As a depressant of the central nervous system, alcohol has strong effects on the developing brain in several different ways. Because it suppresses the section of the brain that controls and regulates inhibitions, it may also be considered a stimulant at times.

  • Cerebral cortex - The cerebral cortex controls information from the senses, and alcohol may slow it down.
  • Central nervous system - Consisting of the spinal cord and brain, the central nervous system sends signals to the rest of the body when it wants something done. This can include speaking and thinking, which are both affected by the slowing down of the central nervous system by alcohol.
  • Frontal lobes - Ideas are formed, decisions are made, self-control is focused and the body plans with the help of the frontal lobes, and alcohol can make it difficult for a person to control urges and emotions. This may result in violent or irrational behavior. Extensive drinking over several years may alter the frontal lobes forever.

Alcohol in a developing brain can also affect the cerebellum, medulla, hypothalamus and hippocampus, and alcohol is a factor in far too many drunk driving accidents involving teens.

Get a fresh start

Any teenager who has been caught drinking or driving under the influence and wants the best chance at a fresh start should consult with an attorney today to discuss options.

Hoelscher Gebbia PLLC advises and represents juveniles in San Antonio and the surrounding areas.

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