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Heavy alcohol use in adolescence alters brain electrical activity

Long term heavy alcohol use in adolescence alters cortical excitability and functional connectivity in the brain, say researchers from the University of Eastern Finland. 

Long-term heavy alcohol use in adolescence alters cortical excitability and functional connectivity in the brain, say researchers from the University of Eastern Finland. 


Results showed that for young people whose brains are still developing, heavy
alcohol use is especially detrimental. Picture: Alamy

They analysed the effects of heavy drinking on the electrical activity and excitability of the cortex in 27 young people who had been heavy drinkers throughout adolescence, but who had not been diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder. 

The results were compared with 25 control subjects, matched by age, gender and education, with little or no alcohol use. All study participants were aged 13-18 at the start of the study. 

Significant alterations 

At age 23-28 years, the participants’ brain activity was analysed using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) combined with simultaneous electroencephalogram (EEG) recording. This method enabled the researchers to analyse how different regions of the cortex respond to electrical stimulation, and what the functional connectivities between the different regions are. 

They found that alcohol use caused significant alterations in both electrical and chemical neurotransmission among the study participants. 

For young people whose brains are still developing, heavy alcohol use is especially detrimental, the study authors said, adding that the findings ‘warrant the question of whether the diagnostic criteria for substance abuse disorders should be tighter for adolescents, and whether they should be more easily referred to treatment.’ 


Kaarre O et al (2016) Heavy alcohol use in adolescence is associated with altered cortical activity: a combined TMS–EEG study. Addiction Biology. doi:10.1111/adb.12486  

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