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When 'just say no' isn't enough: Try science
Date:12/3/2008

Teens are fascinated by their brains, the way they work, change, and even "freeze" sometimes. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) recommends that parents, teachers and caregivers use that fascination to engage middle and high school students this holiday season in a discussion of why they shouldn't drink alcohol.

"Parents need every tool they can find to convince their teens not to drink alcohol, particularly during the holiday season," says Shirley Malcom, head of the Education & Human Resources Directorate at AAAS. "Science is such a tool, and it is providing new insights on alcohol's effects on the maturing brain."

Scientists used to believe that human brains finished developing before adolescence. But according to The Science Inside Alcohol Project, an alcohol education effort of the AAAS that is funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), new and ongoing brain research shows that important brain regions and their interconnections are still developing well into a person's twenties.

The brain is made up of more than 100 billion neurons, each making tens of thousands of connections. Alcohol can damage or even kill neurons, perhaps altering development of those parts of the adolescent brain that are still forming. Research suggests that alcohol can cause teens to:

  • Make bad decisions. The prefrontal cortex, which is involved in planning and decision-making, does not completely mature until after the teen years. Using alcohol can harm a teen's ability to reason and weigh options instead of just doing something because it is fun or feels good.

  • Develop a tolerance for alcohol and drink more over time. When adolescents drink on multiple occasions, their brains develop tolerance to alcohol, requiring more alcohol to obtain the same effects as previously. This encourages higher levels of use, potentially leading to alcohol abuse and even dependence
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Contact: Aimee Stern
aimee@sterncommdc.com
202-744-5004
American Association for the Advancement of Science
Source:Eurekalert

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