Does Adolescent Binge Drinking Lead to Alcohol Dependence?

Alcohol dependence is a worldwide concern. Individuals who are addicted to alcohol experience social, economic, and relational challenges that can put a strain on the people they are closest to and their communities at large. Those who struggle with alcohol problems often have trouble maintaining healthy relationships with family members, and children of alcoholic-dependent individuals are at increased risk for maltreatment. Additionally, people who are addicted to alcohol put a financial strain on community resources. Individuals with alcohol dependence are more likely to seek help in the form of public assistance for medical, mental, and financial needs. All of these factors underscore the need for adequately identifying and treating individuals at risk for alcohol dependence as early as possible.

Lin Xiao of the Department of Psychology at the Dana and David Dornsife Cognitive Neuroscience Imaging Center and Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles recently conducted a study to determine how alcohol consumption affected the executive functioning of a sample of 14 teens with a history of binge drinking. Using magnetic resonance imaging, Xiao compared the neural scans of the teens to those of 14 teens who had never consumed alcohol. Xiao chose to focus on executive functioning because it reveals key areas of importance, including academic ability, addictive tendencies, reward urgency, and decision making.

The results revealed that the binge-drinking teens had increased activity in particular regions of their brains that are influential in accurately perceiving the emotions of others. These individuals are more likely to inaccurately judge the social environments in which they find themselves, which could lead to poor decision making. Additionally, reward response reactions were more urgent in the binge drinkers than nondrinkers. The findings indicate that individuals with even a brief history of binge drinking may be at risk for social challenges and psychological issues such as anger, addiction, substance dependency, compulsion, and even schizophrenia. Xiao believes that these results could help clinicians working with young adults and teens who engage in abusive drinking behaviors. Xiao added, “Thus the current study has important clinical and public health implications for its potential to identify individuals who might be at increased risk for alcoholism.”

Xiao, L., Bechara, A., Gong, Q., Huang, X., Li, X., Xue, G., et al. (2012). Abnormal affective decision making revealed in adolescent binge drinkers using a functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027892

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  • Blakely Ryerson

    Blakely Ryerson

    May 3rd, 2012 at 4:49 PM

    I am a firm believer in this- if kids start drinking early in life, then they are only setting themselves up for a world of hurt later on. It’s kind of like the addict who tries again and again to achieve that very first high, and they can’t seem to do it. But it was so good to them that they keep on and keep on until they are hopelessly addicted. I would liken this to the very same thing. The more they drink, the more they want it. All I can say is encourage your kids to not even begin this vicious pattern as it can be so difficult for many of them to stop once they have started.

  • Nicole


    May 4th, 2012 at 4:21 AM

    Kids do crazy things when they are teens, we all did, I know that I sure did. There were even times when I drank more than I should, but that has not turned into a drinking problem as an adult. There are some who will develop alcoholism as a result, but it might not be because of drinking while young. Maybe they were destined to become this anyway.

  • joley


    May 4th, 2012 at 11:26 AM

    Teens will experiment as will young adults. But binge drinking is beyond experimentation, this is serious stuff! We are talking real sickness, overdosing, alcohol poisoning and even death here! I think that college kids are more likely to take part because they think it is cool or that they will look like a wimp if they refuse to take another shot, so the education has to be there for these kids that this is not a fun night out on the town, that there could be dire consequences for doing this, not just for the one night vut for the rest of their lives possibly.



    May 5th, 2012 at 10:59 AM

    Ever notice how towns and communities just kind of shrug off the problem, like there is nothing that they can do to stop it? Maybe that’s where a lot of the problem lies. If we would start enforcing the drinking laws a little bit better then that could prevent so many of the tragedies that we see all of the time from happening.

  • Sami


    May 6th, 2012 at 7:23 AM

    Kids see their parents drinking so they think this is all right for them to do too, or they see kids in movies doing it. The way that drinking is glorified in society I can easily see how so many kids fall into the trap of thinking that thid will be a choice for them that is all right too. But they fail to see that there are many adults who can’t handle all of the pressures that go along with drinking so how can a child? This gets them into such trouble because they are not at all equipped to make safe choices when it comes to alcohol. I don’t know whether all of this contributes to binge drinking, but it can’t necessarily lead to anything good either.

  • Scott


    May 7th, 2012 at 10:25 PM

    Nicole: I love your perspective. I totally agree. Perhaps binge drinking as a teen is an early indication of an addictive personality which will quite likely lead to alcoholism/addiction. Pour souls. Its not the presence of alcohol/addictive substance that is the problem but rather the presence of desire to consume way too much bad stuff despite the known health risks associated with it. Furthermore blaming booze for addiction is bs. A stupid parent knowingly blames beer commercials for their sons drinking when they know damn well the kid is drinking because they’ve been crappy parents and the kid is already looking for an escape. Just blame it on the booze instead!! BS!!

  • darren


    May 8th, 2012 at 12:05 AM

    time and again it has been proven just how bad alcohol can be for young people.but still we continue to have tens of thousands of youngsters getting addicted to it.we need to introspect and frame tougher policies, encourage and impart awareness and have better implementation.

  • stressmom


    May 8th, 2012 at 4:23 AM

    If this is behavior that children begin early in life, they are forming those oathways in their brain that may lead them to eventually feel like they are dependent upon alcohol to get through the day. We all want our kids to just say no, to not feel the need to get involved with drinking, but in the real world they will experiment no matter how hard we try to get them not to. But that is no reason to give up. Taking one sip is one thing, but going on a binge is a huge danger that I don’t think that very many young people are aware of. We have to educate them and let them know that this is not s good choice for them to make. This is not a pathway that we want them to create and stick to.

  • Alba


    July 30th, 2016 at 2:20 AM


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