Alcohol can harm developing brains and futures

A child’s healthy brain is the key to their future. It determines who they are, impacting their ability to reach their full potential. Research shows, underage drinking can change how brains develop, impairing memory, learning and good judgment.1

Your child’s brain is key to their potential

Doctors from Yale University, the Amen Clinics and the University of California, San Diego, explain how alcohol impairs healthy brain development.

Underage drinking changes how brains develop

The “hippocampus” is the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory. Research indicates that kids who began drinking at an earlier age had consistently smaller hippocampi compared to those who began drinking later.2 Having a smaller hippocampus means having a harder time learning and memorizing new things and storing new information. Consequently, youth who engage in early and frequent use of alcohol may find it difficult to catch up in adulthood, which can put them at a disadvantage in their relationships and careers.3

The “prefrontal cortex,” or forehead area of the brain, is responsible for controlling behavior, which includes planning, judgment, decision making and impulse control. Alcohol can have an adverse effect on these behaviors.4 Every child deserves to reach the age of 21 with a healthy brain and a bright future, free from the harms of alcohol.

Brain activity at a glance

The brains of adolescent drinkers often aren’t as active as the brains of nondrinkers, even when sober.

Slide to see the differences in brain activity between a sober 15-year-old heavy drinker and a 15-year-old nondrinker. Red areas indicate more brain activity.


Alcohol can rewire developing brains for addiction, and the earlier that kids begin drinking, the more likely they are to become alcohol-dependent.5

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Underage drinking can be linked to poor academic performance, violence, depression, suicide and many other mental illnesses and behavioral problems.6

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Parents are the #1 reason kids don’t drink

The harms of underage drinking are real, but as a parent, you can help prevent it. All kids need their parents’ help to stay alcohol-free and protect their healthy brain.

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2 De Bellis MD, Clark DB, Beers SR, Soloff PH, Boring AM, Hall J, Kersh A, Keshavan MS. Hippocampal volume in adolescent-onset alcohol use disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry. 2000;157(17):737–744.

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3 Brown, S.A.; Tapert, S.F.; Granholm, E.; and Delis, D.C. Neurocognitive functioning of adolescents: Effects of protracted alcohol use. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 24(2): 164–171, 2000.
6 Richter L, Pugh BS, Peters EA, Vaughan RD, Foster SE. Underage drinking: prevalence and correlates of risky drinking measures among youth aged 12-20. Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2016;42(4):385–394pmid:26682472.

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