The adverse effects of alcohol use during adolescence are of particular concern to prevention researchers due to the vulnerability of developing neural systems that regulate executive cognitive, and emotion regulatory functions critical for emotional and behavioral self-control. Early alcohol use may lead to a decline in neurodevelopment, with potentially long-term consequences for the ability to succeed academically, socially, and economically. The adolescent’s particular sensitivity to these adverse effects could explain findings of impairment in adolescents with alcohol use problems and adults who began drinking at an early age.
In response to gaps in our knowledge regarding adolescent alcohol use, this project five-year longitudinal fMRI study sought to identify functional neuroanatomical substrates of neurodevelopmental liability to initiate and escalate alcohol use while charting the progressive nature of neurological and behavioral consequences of alcohol use at a relatively young age. Information was gathered from community-based and high-risk samples of “drug naïve” 11-13 year olds over the course of three, 18 month waves of data collection.
Neurological markers of developmental delays have been associated with alcohol, tobacco and other drug use, providing direction for this study in identifying vulnerability factors in alcohol abuse and its potential effects. Ultimately, this study sought to understand underlying mechanisms in the development of maladaptive social behaviors that increase risk for alcohol use initiation and escalation in order to suggest specific strategies for intervention.