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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