Teen developoment: Alcohol interferes with decision-making

Teens and parents alike should be aware of the harmful effects of alcohol abuse, said Sharonda Taylor, assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine.

Alcohol is a neurotoxin, meaning it has a toxic affect on the brain, and during adolescence the brain is still developing. Teens at this point shift from responding from the emotional center of the brain to what is called executive functioning, which includes good decision making, understanding consequences of behavior and better control over emotions, according to a BCM report.

“There is important neurodevelopment going on and you certainly don’t want alcohol to interfere with that,” Taylor said.

Alcohol also impairs the ability to recognize visuospatial relationships, she said. This can lead to serious injury when a teen driver doesn’t recognize how close the car in front of them is and an accident occurs.

If parents suspect their child is abusing alcohol, they should make an appointment with their pediatrician or adolescent medicine physician. Teens should have the opportunity to talk privately with their doctor, since they may be more likely to talk about things they may be afraid of or embarrassed to tell their parents.

If necessary, the pediatrician can make a referral to a counselor or alcohol abuse agency. School counselors are another good resource, Taylor said.

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