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New report finds an association between teen tobacco use and drinking

February 21, 2017 0 Comments

What does teen drinking look like?

Some of the signs are pretty obvious – smelling liquor on the breath is a big red flag, as is finding liquor bottles in the trash or hidden around the house. But some of the symptoms identified by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) are a lot less obvious. Rebelliousness, mood swings, problems at school … these can happen in even the soberest teenager. So what’s a red flag of drinking parents should keep an eye out for?

According to a recent report from the Utah Department of Health Services (UDOH) and the Utah Department of Human Services, it’s tobacco use.

Many teen drinkers also smoke, says data

The report used data from Utah’s Student Health and Risk Prevention survey. The survey asks students about their health, substance use and any other negative behaviors they may participate in. “About one-fourth of Utah youth who drank alcohol in the past 30 days reported that they also smoked conventional cigarettes,” said UDOH program manager Jane Duncan, in a press release. “Nicotine is highly addictive and most adult smokers become dependent before the age of 19, making use of tobacco products among adolescents a concern.”

Additionally, the report also found eighth, tenth and twelfth graders were nearly 24 percent more likely to report trying alcohol and the increasingly-popular e-cigarettes. Often claimed to be less unsafe than regular cigarettes, e-cigarettes still have many health hazards associated with their use. So it’s a good thing the recent “Monitoring the Future” report from the University of Michigan found e-cigarette use by teens declined last year.

However, parents should be concerned about underage drinking – not only can alcohol use at early ages damage the brain, it’s also associated with harmful behaviors.

Teen brains and alcohol: A bad partnership

There’s good reasons teen drinking is generally discouraged. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), when underage drinkers consume alcohol they overwhelmingly do it via binge drinking. Binge drinking is a bad idea for even more reasons, but chief among them is alcohol is bad for teen brains, period.

In 2015, researchers from Duke University conducted an experiment using rats to determine the effects of alcohol on an immature brain. In the experiment, rats received impairing doses of alcohol. Afterwards, the researchers examined the rats’ brains by stimulating their hippocampi. The hippocampus is a structure in the brain thought to be associated with memory and learning new tasks. The researchers were looking for what they called “long-term potentiation (LTP),” a strengthening of brain synapses as they learn new tasks or recall memories.

The researchers were surprised to find very high levels of LTP in the brains of rats who received the doses of alcohol. “At first blush, you would think the animals would be smarter, but that’s the opposite of what we found,” said Scott Swartzwelder, Ph.D., Duke University psychology professor and senior study author in a press release. “Because if you protrude too much LTP in one of those circuits, there is a period of time where you can’t produce any more. The circuit is saturated, and the animal stops learning. For learning to be efficient, your brain needs a delicate balance of excitation and inhibition – too much in either direction and the circuits do not work optimally.”

The rats’ brains also showed structural abnormalities – many of the brain cells appeared immature compared to the cells found in the brains of rats who hadn’t received doses of alcohol. “Something happens during adolescent alcohol exposure that changes the way the hippocampus and other regions of the brain function and how the cells actually look – both the LTP and the (brain cells) have an immature appearance in adulthood,” Swartzwelder said.

A drinking teen is a teen in need

Alcohol posts grave risks to teenagers. Some teens benefit from a structured environment which allows them the time and space needed to address their problems. White River Academy provides a caring, understanding environment for boys aged 12 to 17. Our clients receive the benefits of effective treatment, social structure and a healthy environment where they can move past their difficulties and reach their full potential. For more information, please contact our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Brian Moore is a staff writer and graphic designer for Sovereign Health. A 20-year veteran of the newspaper industry, he writes articles and creates graphics across Sovereign’s portfolio of marketing and content products. Brian enjoys music, bicycling and playing the tuba, which he’s done with varying degrees of success for over 25 years. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author and designer at news@sovhealth.com.

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