34 neural factors can help predict alcohol use among adolescents

34 neural factors can help predict alcohol use among adolescents

Alcohol is a popular addictive substance among the teens of the United States. The increasing preference among American youth for alcohol has made underage drinking a serious public health concern. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), young Americans, aged between 12 and 20 years, drink 11 percent of the total alcohol consumed in the U.S. This has been attributed mostly to binge drinking tendencies among young Americans.

As teenage drinking has many serious economic and health effects, studies are being carried out to identify factors that can help predict alcohol consumption among them. A recent study, titled “Neural Predictors of Initiating Alcohol Use During Adolescence,” has identified 34 neural factors that can help predict alcohol consumption among adolescents. Based on previous neuropsychological and neuroimaging studies, researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine hinted at the possibility of being able to measure the underlying behavioral mechanisms that increase the risk of substance abuse.

For the study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in August 2016, the scientists observed 137 adolescents, aged between 12 and 14 years, who had never tried any substance, including alcohol. These participants underwent a series of neuropsychological tests and functional magnetic resonance imaging of their brains. The details obtained were then examined every year. It was found that by the time the adolescents turned 18, 70 of the respondents had turned from moderate to heavy drinkers, while the remaining 67 participants continued to be non-users.

Neuroimaging techniques can help in prediction

The researchers used a machine learning algorithm identified as “random forests” for the development of a predictive model. The findings revealed that among the youth, aged between 12 and 14 years, the likelihood to initiate alcohol consumption by the time they turned 18 increased in certain situations like:

  • they were male and belonged to a higher socio-economic background
  • they reported to have been dating or have been engaged in untoward habits like lying or cheating and had believed that drinking would help them in social settings
  • they had reported of poor performance on executive function tests
  • the results obtained after neuroimaging conducted on them showed thinner cortices

The authors wrote that neuroimaging, to a major extent, helped predict with greater correctness, both by clarifying implicated brain morphology and observing the activation of 20 diffusely distributed brain regions involved in initiation of drinking habit.

Need to come up with ways to fight alcoholism

Stressing on the importance of the research, senior author of the study Dr. Susan F. Tapert, professor of psychiatry, said, “The value of this particular study is that it provides a documented path for other researchers to follow, to replicate and expand upon our findings. Ultimately, of course, the goal is to have a final, validated model that physicians and others can use to predict adolescent alcohol use and prevent it.”

Considering the large prevalence of alcohol consumption among American adolescents, it is imperative to find out ways that can help identify children who are at a risk of drinking heavily.

Scope of recovery

Recent studies have indicated how addictive properties of alcohol can lead to rewiring of the teenage brain. Drinking before turning 15 can make children compulsive drinkers in the long run compared to those who wait till adulthood to have their first sip of alcohol.

The consequences of drinking too early include cognitive impairment, learning and behavioral problems and prolonged alterations in brain development. If you or your loved one is fighting drinking problems and wishes to seek treatment, contact the Alcohol Addiction Helpline of California for information on alcohol addiction treatment centers in California and alcohol rehab centers in California. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 855-980-1715 for expert advice on alcohol addiction treatment facilities in California or chat online to know further about inpatient alcohol rehab centers in California.

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