Age-related effects of alcohol on memory and memory-related brain function in adolescents and adults.
As detailed in this brief review, there is now clear evidence that adolescence represents a unique stage of brain development. Changes in brain organization and function during adolescence are widespread, and include intense rewiring in the frontal lobes and other neorcortical regions, as well as changes in a litany of subcortical structures. Recent research suggests that, because of these changes in brain function, drugs like alcohol affect adolescents and adults differently. The available evidence, much of it from research with animal models, suggests that adolescents might be more sensitive than adults to the memory impairing effects of alcohol, as well as the impact of alcohol on the brain function that underlies memory formation. For instance, when treated with alcohol, adolescent rats perform worse than adults in spatial learning tasks that are known to require the functioning of the hippocampus. Alcohol disrupts hippocampal function, and does so more potently in adolescents than adults. In contrast, adolescents appear to be far less sensitive than adults to both the sedative and motor impairing effects of alcohol. While research on this topic is still in its infancy, the findings clearly suggest that adolescence represents a unique stage of sensitivity to the impact of alcohol on behavior and brain function.
White, AM; Swartzwelder, HS
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