Harm Prevention Policies Must Take the Long View
In this research editorial authors identify three time periods in which the brain is most sensitive to alcohol. The maintenance of brain health is central to health and wellbeing across the lifespan. Evidence suggests three periods of dynamic brain changes that may be particularly sensitive to the neurotoxic effects of alcohol: gestation (from conception to birth), later adolescence (15-19 years), and older adulthood (over 65 years). Highly prevalent patterns of alcohol use may cause harm during these sensitive periods, including low level prenatal alcohol exposure, adolescent binge alcohol use, and low-to-moderate alcohol use in older adulthood. Although these patterns of alcohol exposure may be associated with less harm to individuals than sustained heavy alcohol use, the overall burden of harm in populations is likely to be large.
Research in context
The experts considered reports of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder caused by alcohol use during pregnancy which result in smaller brain volume and cognitive problems. In adolescence, the issue of binge alcohol use is associated with reduced brain volume, poorer white matter development (critical for efficient brain functioning), and deficits in a range of cognitive functions. Recent evidence show that alcohol use disorders in older individuals are one of the strongest risk factors for dementia compared to other known factors such as high blood pressure or smoking.
Considering that the global alcohol consumption is predicted to rise in the future, the authors of the study call for policies to consider harm reduction at all ages.
Population based interventions such as guidelines on low risk [alcohol use], alcohol pricing policies, and lower [blood alcohol content (BAC)] limits need to be accompanied by the development of training and care pathways that consider the human brain at risk throughout life,” wrote the authors of the editorial as per, Kings College London News Centre.Louise Mewton, Briana Lees, Rahul Tony Rao, authors of the BMJ editorial