Heard on campus: Alcohol and the adolescent brain

May 24, 2010

Research over the past decade has seen a dramatic increase in scientific evidence of the effect of drugs and alcohol on the adolescent brain.

“Neuroscience research has been able to utilize imaging to view an active brain and gain valuable information on the impact of drugs and alcohol on youth,” said Sam Monismith, associate professor of health education at Penn State Harrisburg.

Coordinator of the master’s degree program in health education, Monismith recently profiled groundbreaking research findings of the past decade into “the secrets of the teenage brain."

“Teen and adult brains are quite different,” he said. “As the brain is developing during adolescence, teens spend more time with peers and there is increased conflict with authority and risk-taking. These are important to growth, but the skills may not yet be present for the young individual to take appropriate action.”

During adolescence, the “pleasure center” of the brain is strong and directs teens to seek reward and pleasure. With the introduction of drugs and alcohol, the “thinking and rationalizing part” of the brain does not adequately regulate the pleasure-seeking part, leading to increased usage and dependency, he said.

“The portion of the brain which controls judgment and impulse is still developing during adolescence,” Monismith said. “Drug use leads to poor judgment and the propensity to act before thinking.” He added that during the teen years, adolescents need guidance, parameters to behavior and quality alternatives.

Adolescent brains, he said, have been found to be less sensitive to the intoxicating influence of drugs and alcohol leading to increased use and the danger of adult addictions.

“Drugs and alcohol are simply not a good combination with heightened risk-taking during adolescence," Monismith said.

Monismith’s recent seminar, “Alcohol and the Adolescent Brain,” was the last in a series of weekly faculty seminars hosted by the college Office of Research and Graduate Studies.

Last Updated October 04, 2010