Underage alcohol use is a major public health and social problem. A new study, conducted by the Medical University of South Carolina, has found that demographic factors, cognitive functioning, and brain features during the early-adolescence ages of 12 to 14 years can predict which youth eventually initiate alcohol use during later adolescence around the age of 18.
The study design
The researchers gathered data on 137 healthy alcohol- and drug-naïve adolescents through the Youth at Risk study, including extensive clinical interviews, neuropsychological testing, and structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging, followed by annual check-ups. By age 18, 70 youth (51%) had initiated heavy alcohol use and 67 had remained non-users.
The risk factors identified
Neural and brain factors appear to be important predictors of teen alcohol use.
Demographic factors that predict teen alcohol use include:
- Being male,
- Coming from a higher socioeconomic status,
- Dating by age 14, and
- Positive expectations of how alcohol is going to make you feel and behave, particularly in social situations.
Other features that are predictive of teen alcohol use before the legal age are poorer performance on tests of executive functioning, as well as differences in the structure and function of the brain during executive functioning tasks at ages 12 to 14.
The findings “Neurocognitive Predictors Of Initiating Heavy Alcohol Use During Adolescence” will be presented during the RSA 2016 meeting on Sunday, June 26 at 10:25 a.m. within the session: “The Role Of Executive Functions On Alcohol And Cannabis Use In Young Individuals: From Initiation To Heavy Use And Dependence.”