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Use science to bolster 'just say no' message
Researchers urge science-based approach to preventing teen drinking

Date published: 5/31/2009

BY JANET MARSHALL

With high school graduation season in full swing, many parents are worried that alcohol may play a harmful role in their teens' celebrations.

An organization that studies teen drinking says parents should assume their teens will drink, and should use science to try to dissuade them.

The Science Inside Alcohol Project advises parents to explain in scientific and medical terms the harm done to the body and mind when teens drink.

It's an approach supported by groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, whose "Why 21?" campaign emphasizes the damage alcohol can do to the developing teen brain.

"When you have science, it kind of can back up why you're saying, 'Don't drink,'" said Jennifer Cipolla Hamilton, executive director of MADD Northern Virginia.

Researchers with the Science Inside Alcohol Project, a part of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, hope deeper scientific knowledge may help students resist the temptation to drink.

The teen brain is different than the adult brain, and alcohol affects it differently, the researchers say. And while teens may know about hangovers, they may not know about the interplay between their pre-frontal cortex and alcohol.

The organization has begun a campaign to encourage teens to ponder these five ways alcohol can ruin their celebrations:

They may not remember graduation night. "The hippocampus, or the area in the brain that stores memory, is still maturing in teens," says a press release from the Science Inside Alcohol Project. "Drinking even small amounts of alcohol can make kids forget what they did while drinking and even black out completely."

They may do things they don't want to do. Alcohol reduces inhibitions, so teens who drink may have sex, drink and drive or do other things they normally wouldn't. The brain's pre-frontal cortex, which is involved in decision-making, isn't fully formed in the teen years. It doesn't fully develop until the mid- to late 20s. So, add alcohol into the mix during the teen years and decision-making can really suffer.

They may get into fights. Teens who drink are more violent than those who don't. The group cites research showing a higher rate of violent behavior--including damaging things--among teen drinkers than those who don't imbibe.


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