Before associating specific problems with college drinking, I think it’s beneficial to get a general sense of what alcohol does to the brain.
THE COLLEGE STUDENT’S BRAIN: NOT QUITE THERE YET
The average undergraduate college student is between the ages of 18 and 22. While only a fraction of them are of legal age, this certainly does not prevent them from drinking. Regardless, the following analysis includes students of both legal and non-legal drinking ages. A BBC news article explains that neuroscience has shown that human brain development continues into an individual’s late 20s. This includes development of a person’s emotions, judgment, and self-image. None of this will be set in stone until their prefrontal cortex is fully developed. The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health points out that underage drinking “Can cause alterations in the structure and function of the developing brain, which continues to mature into the mid- to late twenties, and may have consequences reaching far beyond adolescence.” Alcohol, or any substance for that matter, has a more profound affect on underdeveloped brains.
DRINKING TOO MUCH
CNN cites that most students, about 70%, who participate in underage drinking binge-drink. Heavy exposure to alcohol can cause severe, irreversible brain damage including, but certainly not limited to, memory loss and decreased memory retention. At a young age, these effects are more profound since the brain is not fully developed. To give you an idea of the distribution of how college student assess their own drinking habits, check out the pie-chart breakdown from a Harvard News post. Since this is a self-assessment, keep in mind that there may be some bias in what the students said about themselves. This is why this data does not match up perfectly with the CNN report I talked about.
THE DRUNKEN BRAIN: WHY IS IT SO DIFFERENT?
Alcohol begins affecting the brain in noticeable ways once you reach between 0.04 and 0.08 blood alcohol content (BAC). When drunk, three primary parts of the brain are impacted: the amygdala (uh–mig-duh-luh), frontal lobes, and the hippocampus. The amygdala regulates your comprehension of fear . The more you drink, the more this part of the brain is suppressed. You are less afraid of what the consequences of getting “wasted” will be after every drink you have. The frontal lobes in the brain regulate decision-making. Alcohol consumption temporarily degrades their functionality. This is why drunk people tend to make brash, illogical, and irresponsible decisions. The hippocampus is responsible for making memories in the brain. Alcohol consumption temporarily disrupts this function in the human brain. Some students think they benefit from this because drinking may help them forget about their worries and responsibilities. Find out more here.
STUFF TO REMEMBER
- Alcohol has a more severe affect on college students because their brains are still developing
- More than two-thirds of students who consume alcohol binge-drink
- Binge-drinking causes students to quickly and consistently get drunk
- Above a BAC of 0.8, brain functionality is significantly impaired
*Source for Featured Image on Cover