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For Teen Boys, Heavy Drinking & Impulsivity May Be Vicious Circle

TUESDAY, Nov. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Bouts of heavy drinking can increase male teens' levels of impulsive behavior over time, including their propensity for more heavy drinking, a new study finds.

The study included more than 500 boys in Pittsburgh who were assessed each year from first-grade until they were 20 years old, with another follow-up four to five years later.

When they were teens, boys with moderate levels of impulsive behavior showed a significant increase in impulsivity if they had engaged in heavy drinking the previous year, as opposed to those with low or high levels of impulsive behavior.

The findings were released online in advance of publication in the February print issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"Heavy alcohol use in adolescence may lead to alterations in brain structure and function that reduce behavioral (impulse) control, which could, in turn, promote further heavy drinking," first author Helene R. White, professor of sociology at the Center of Alcohol Studies at Rutgers University, said in a news release from the journal's publisher.

"We chose boys because they tend to drink heavier than girls during adolescence, and adolescent boys generally exhibit less impulse control than adolescent girls," she added.

The findings emphasize the need for prevention, said Andrew Littlefield, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Missouri. He was not involved in the study.

"Decreasing heavy drinking during adolescence may decrease impulsivity by preventing damage to crucial brain areas. Findings also suggested that adolescents who stopped heavy drinking later 'rebounded' to lower levels of impulsivity. Therefore, decreasing drinking during adolescence could result in improved self-control at later ages," Littlefield said in the news release.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has more about alcohol and health.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Alcohol: Clinical & Experimental Research, news release, Nov. 16, 2010

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