Sunday, October 22, 2017

Alcohol and the Adolescent Brain

“But there’s nothing else to do” or “everyone else does it.”

Alcohol has powerful depressant effects, initially decreasing inhibitions. Alcohol adversely affects many organs, including the esophagus and stomach (gastritis), pancreas, liver (fat deposition, inflammation, eventually scarring/cirrhosis), heart (high blood pressure, rhythm disturbances, muscle damage), nerve (damage), and brain (cognition).

The adolescent brain suffers numerous toxicities from alcohol. The New York Times shares classic information about teen alcohol risks. Aside from impaired judgment and driving risks, teen alcohol use predisposes to alcoholism and impairs brain centers responsible for learning, memory, and spatial relationships.

Peer pressure often overrules both prohibitions and common sense, even when athletic suspensions are policy.

But why should student-athletes particularly care? A single night’s alcohol use impairs hydration (alcohol is a diuretic), muscle recovery, healing, and can cause memory deficits for three days. Alcohol damages sleep. It limits absorption of key vitamins. It decreases endurance.

Teen girls are at even higher risk.  Sports require both coordination and complex spatial processing. Studies showed decreased brain activity in relevant areas (by neuroimaging with functional MRI).

Alcohol use by teen athletes compromises central (brain) and peripheral (muscle and organ) function, some of which can be irreversible. Alcohol use manifests extreme selfishness as athletes hurt themselves and their teammates. Exceptional performance demands exceptional behaviors, persistent commitment, and special discipline. Science and facts not opinion inform excellence.

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