By Dr Hena Jawaid, Psychiatrist
Alcoholism in teenagers is a common problem these days. It has various implications and effects on the individual and collective level. On a biological level, it can cause liver damage, hypertension, ischemic heart diseases, stroke, sensory deficits and gastric problems. Well, on the psychosocial level the manifestations like social disinhibition, confusion, impaired executive functioning, depression, psychosis (disconnection from the reality) and anxiety can take place.
On a collective scale, from a biological point of view, alcoholism is an inheritable trait. For example, if a father is a heavy drinker then the son would ultimately be at-risk. On the psychosocial scale, teenagers get into heavy drinking by modelling their elders, road-traffic accident secondary to driving under the influence (DUI), legal problems, and issues like abuse and violence can be surfaced.
What one can do to prevent youngsters from diverting towards the substance use is to identify those who can be at risk!
Recently, the study was done in California (1) that recruited 137 substance naïve adolescents (ages 12-14). Neuropsychological testing and structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (sMRI and fMRI) were conducted. These adolescents have followed annually. By age 18, 70 youths (51%) started moderate to heavy alcohol use, and 67 remained nonusers. The aim of the study was to find out the neural predictors of alcohol use by age 18. The identified risk factors are male gender, higher socio-economic status, early dating, more externalising behaviours, and positive expectations from alcohol use.
The previous studies (2) point out lesser brain activation on tasks of working memory (recent or short-term memory), inhibition (social and movement restraints on behaviours in response to environmental situations or demands) and reward processing. The localised areas in a brain for mentioned behaviours can be used to anticipate the alcohol use amongst adolescents. The brain volume in some areas of a brain responsible for impulsivity, reward sensitivity, and decision-making noticed to be reduced (3). The reduced volume in these areas has also been used as a predictor for alcohol and other substance initiation during adolescence. The other interesting feature came out to be the early maturation of neural fibres at adolescent age (4). This can increase the sensation-seeking behaviours and ultimately result in behaviours like early dating, substance use and social disinhibition.
These findings are in line with the previous studies, which were conducted amongst moderate to heavy users to assess biological and psychosocial risk factors for their early use.
These inferences can be translated into clinical practice by identifying the high-risk group to avoid morbidity and mortality in future. The diagnostic tools like fMRI can be employed to screen at-risk group and initiate early preemptive measures.
Similar studies should be conducted in the future too to build the evidence for the Alcohol screening clinics to administer these diagnostic tools besides running screening questionnaires. The early interventions can diminish legal, medical, social and interpersonal complications of an individual and can help in building the healthy society for the generations to come.
Cite this article as:
Hena Jawaid (2017). Alcoholism in Teenage: The Beautiful Space-A journal of Mind, Art and Poetry. March 2017: TBSB115
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