Earlier this year Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) published a report compiling a number of expert insights into the impact of alcohol on the adolescent brain. The issue is of particular relevance to alcohol policy given evidence that early onset drinking is linked to later life alcohol problems.
The review looks at key areas including how the brain develops during adolescence, what alcohol does to the developing brain, the role of genetics, and further clinical, psychological and cognitive implications of adolescent alcohol use. Many of the articles address the limitations and challenges facing research in the area, but identify a number of serious effects adolescent alcohol use can have on short term brain functioning and for later life.
Based on the themes of the report and round-table discussions, SHAAP make a number of policy recommendations:
- Protecting young people from alcohol-related harm has to be within the context of a ‘whole population’ approach to reduce overall alcohol consumption.
- Protecting young people from alcohol-related harm should be embedded in national and local policy.
- Emerging evidence that the adolescent brain may be especially vulnerable to alcohol harms should inform all health-promoting activities.
- Emerging evidence that the adolescent brain may be especially vulnerable to alcohol harms should prompt investment in further exploratory research.
Last year an event took place exploring ‘Alcohol consumption in adolescence and early adult life: What are the consequences?’, organised by the Cohorts and Longitudinal Studies Enhancement Resources (CLOSER).
A presentation at this year’s Drinkaware conference also looked at the subject with a presentation on ‘The effects of alcohol on the adolescent brain’, by Sarah-Hayne Blakmore, Professor in Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL. View the factsheet here.
I personally think that a key way to tackle this is to improve alcohol education in schools and if it was combined with Sex and Relationship Education (SRE), which is compulsory, then this would be a big step forward. Equally there needs to be a change in law around advertising and media to try to manage or stop the drink’s industries targeting of young people online via social media. RAND have done some excellent research looking at this subject which you can read:
Also I think the legal age to drink needs to be revisited as it has been with smoking. It is now illegal to buy tobacco products if you are under 18 and has been revised upwards from 16. The same needs to be done to raise the legal age of consumption of alcohol in a public place from 18 to 21, not because I’m some kill joy, but because the larger the buffer we can put between adolescents and alcohol the greater the chance we give their brains to develop without the risk of significant harm being done which is a key coda of child protection. What do you think?
PS Congrats to my free e-book subscriber no 750 who has been emailed regarding the free place offered on my online Udemy course. From now, subscriber no 1000 same deal! 😀