Younger brains ‘tricked’ by alcohol

Sydney Morning Herald April 29, 2009

Teenagers who drink heavily can associate bad experiences such as vomiting and car accidents with pleasure, according to a US expert on alcohol abuse. Aaron White, a health administrator with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, said neurological processes, that were originally designed to ensure human survival, were put off course by alcohol. Dr White, a psychologist, was speaking yesterday at a conference organised by Drinkwise, a research group funded by the Australian Government and the liquor industry.

Alcohol, along with other drugs, induced the release of the neuro-transmitter dopamine. The younger the consumer of alcohol, the more likely the habit of drinking would become entrenched, he said. Experiences while drinking, such as vomiting and car accidents, can be associated with the pleasurable feeling that dopamine induced. “The brain is tricked into thinking those things are positive because it felt good & Pleasure increases the odds that this rewarded behaviour will be repeated.” Dr White said a review of research at the University of California, San Diego, had found heavy alcohol use among adolescents led to a decrease in the size of the frontal lobes, the part of the brain associated with planning, inhibition and emotion regulation.