Occasionally some kid will ask, “I have my whole life to get clean, why bother now?  I’m having fun!”

Let’s get real.  If you’re reading stuff on this web site, you already sort of know that you or someone you know has a problem, and you may suspect that there are some important reasons why quitting now is a much better idea than waiting.

Young people’s brains are designed to learn a lot, quickly.  Their brains have “plasticity,” the ability to form new neural connections as necessary in order to develop the parts of the brain needed for certain skills. This involves building billions of bridges among brain cells, and it is the continuous formation of these bridges that makes the adolescent brain especially vulnerable to alcohol. Drinking alcohol not only interferes with building connections in the brain, it also prevents the protective “insulation” on the nerve cells from developing the way it is supposed to. That prevents your brain cells from transmitting signals properly, and can cause interference in adjacent cells.  Other drugs complicate things even more.

These changes are clearly visible on brain scans.  It isn’t sci-fi, and it’s not just some scare tactic thought up by people who don’t want you to have fun.

The fact is, when you drink heavily and use drugs in your teens, it can keep your brain from developing into a normal adult brain. The chances are good that you will never have a brain that functions with full efficiency.  The drop in problem-solving skills and other factors such as IQ is clearly measurable. This may be reversable to a degree, but the more you use, the less likely you are to end up with all the smarts you were supposed to.

Furthermore, according to Peter M. Monti, Professor of Medical Sciences and director of the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University, “As heavy drinking continues, the likelihood of neuronal damage increases, because the brain is no longer able to compensate for the disruption caused by alcohol.”  In other words, The damage gets worse the longer you drink.

This means that in addition to other, more obvious problems, such as behavioral difficulties, risk-taking, drunk driving and associated accidents,adolescents who drink may also be unable to learn some of the skills that are necessary to function as adults. There is even a name for this: Alcohol Abuse Disorder. It involves reduced ability to solve problems, reduction of verbal memory (the ability to find the right word for a particular meaning and use it properly), disturbed visual-spatial skills (judging relationships of objects in space, a critical skill for driving, games, and similar activities), and general memory problems.

So, on top of the “normal” problems of growing up, there are far-reaching effects of drinking that can change your life and make it much more difficult.If you are thinking about drinking, think again.  If you are drinking more than one or two drinks occasionally, cut back.  If you can’t cut back, get help. Your entire life depends on how you treat your developing brain today.

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