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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 24, Issue 3

Heavy Alcohol Use Harms the Teen Brain

Heavy alcohol consumption may harm the developing brain, significantly impairing learning, memory and thinking in young people

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Mike started drinking at age 14. At his very first party, he recalls, “I probably had 10 beers.” He partied for seven years while playing high school and college football, and the consequences of his drinking resemble a “Just Say No” campaign: blackouts, arrests, academic problems, emergency room visits, driving suspensions and mandatory treatment programs.

About 10 percent of eighth graders, 18 percent of 10th graders and 24 percent of high school seniors binge on alcohol. That is, they consume four drinks or more at a sitting if they are female or five or more if they are male at least once every two weeks. (For the same alcohol dose, women tend to have higher blood alcohol levels than men because of their smaller size, lower body water content and lesser ability to metabolize alcohol.) In addition, 44 percent of college students drink this much or more at least twice a month.

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