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Drinking in Adolescence May Lead to Risky Choices Later
Date:9/21/2009

Study showed young rats made poor decisions long after they were sober

MONDAY, Sept. 21 (HealthDay News) -- In a study that shows that doing JELL-O shots is never a good idea, adolescent rats that consumed alcohol-laced gel were more likely to make risky decisions long after the alcohol had worn off.

Though the research was done with animals, researchers said human teenagers who drink to excess could experience similar, long-lasting effects.

In the study, researchers assigned young rats to one of two groups. The first had access to an alcohol-laced gel for 20 days. The rats liked the taste and consumed large quantities of the substance, the equivalent of several shots of whiskey daily in a human. A second group of rats was given no alcohol.

After three weeks and again at three months -- long after the rats had sobered up and were considered adults -- the rats that had consumed alcohol when they were younger were more likely to make poor decisions.

"We believe it's an effect of alcohol on the developing adolescent brain that causes them to perform differently in decision-making tasks later on," said senior study author Ilene Bernstein, a psychology professor at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The report will be published in the Sept. 21-25 online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Previous studies have shown that early alcohol consumption is a risk factor for later substance abuse and other risky behavior, Bernstein said.

But researchers have not been able to establish if the poor decision-making and propensity for risk-taking in adulthood was a personality trait in people, or if the alcohol itself could have an impact on the teenaged brain, altering behavior and thought processes down the line.

"We believe their brains have been changed in such a way that when it comes to making decisions, they are less able to
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