With shows like Riverdale, Thirteen Reasons Why, and Pretty Little Liars showcasing scenes in which teenagers drink alcohol heavily with little emotional or physical consequences, underage drinking has become fairly normalized in today’s society.
Outside of these American media presences, it is within the law for people 16 or older to consume alcohol in countries like Germany, Portugal, and Switzerland (1). This fact is often used as an excuse to drink in countries like the United States, where the drinking age stands firm at 21 years old (1). While sometimes it seems like the drinking laws aren’t important, they might actually be beneficial.
A study published in 2014 shows that volume is decreased in the brains of people who drink heavily throughout the ages of twelve to seventeen (2). More specifically, cerebellar matter in the cerebellum, which controls details in movement and motor pattern retention (3), was decreased in direct correlation to binge drinking.
This study, “Brain volume reductions in adolescent heavy drinkers,” used dependent and independent variables to monitor the effects of underage drinking on the brain. The independent variable was alcohol use in adolescents and was monitored to determine the dependent variable, which was the amount of cerebellar matter in the brain. The experimental group (9) consisted of forty-six teenagers who had been heavily involved in binge drinking in the previous three months.
This group also participated in the binge drinking experiment to monitor regular binge drinkers compared to the control group (irregular binge drinkers). The control group (10) consisted of sixty teenagers who had never been involved with binge drinking or a large amount of non-prescription drugs. This control group was studied in comparison to the experimental group to monitor cerebellar volume in beginning binge drinkers compared to regular ones. There were 106 teenagers tested, and almost everyone tested after binge drinking had lost cerebellar matter and, in turn, had lost some motor reflexes and motor memory (2).
In addition to a decrease in cerebellar matter, teenage drinking has also been known to increase chances of physical/sexual assault and academic failure (4). Furthermore, about 5,000 people under the age of 21 die as a result of underage drinking per year (5), which makes up approximately 6% of the annual deaths caused by alcohol (6).
Of course, there are many reasons why underage people turn to alcohol use or binge drinking. A teenager could be going through a bad situation with family, school, or friends. They could also be pressured into drinking and become addicted, as alcohol is ranked as the second most addictive substance after heroin (7).
Alcohol is also a popular part of the “college experience.” It has become common to engage in heavy drinking at college parties because entering college often feels like a step into adulthood. As I mentioned before, though, alcohol has been connected to academic failure, and sometimes college students find themselves not doing as well in classes after consistent binge drinking (8).
Today, as 80% of underage college students drink alcohol and 40% participate in binge drinking, it might be good to evaluate the effects of alcohol as a teenager (3).
(1) Hines, Nickolaus. “The Legal Drinking Age in Every Country.” Supercall, https://www.supercall.com/culture/legal-drinking-age-every-country
(2) Squeglia, Lindsay M. “Brain Volume Reductions in Heavy Adolescent Drinkers.” Science Direct, https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/e531/b39f7c111eb36e6fe59adc5a0f4f6b10c9ca.pdf
(3) “Cerebellum.” My-MS, n.d., https://my-ms.org/anatomy_brain_part3.htm
(4) “Consequences of Underage Drinking.” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, n.d., http://www.camy.org/resources/fact-sheets/consequences-of-underage-drinking-surgeon-general/index.html
(5) “Underage Drinking.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Jan. 2006, https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/AA67/AA67.htm
(6) “Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, June 2017, https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
(7) Beck, Craig. “Just How Addictive is Alcohol?” Stop Drinking Expert, https://www.stopdrinkingexpert.com/how-addictive-is-alcohol/
(8) Savrock, Joe. “Study: Inverse Relationship Between Alcohol Abuse and College GPA.” Penn State, http://news.psu.edu/story/172329/2009/11/16/study-inverse-relationship-between-alcohol-abuse-and-college-gpa
(9) a group of participants in a study that receive the intervention of the independent variable being investigated
(10) a comparison group of participants that receives an intervention unrelated to the independent variable being investigated