Neurotoxic effects of alcohol in adolescence

Annu Rev Clin Psychol. 2013;9:703-21. doi: 10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-050212-185610. Epub 2012 Dec 10.


This review examines neuroimaging and neurocognitive findings on alcohol-related toxicity in adolescents. Teens who meet criteria for alcohol use disorders, as well as those who engage in subdiagnostic binge drinking behaviors, often show poorer neurocognitive performance, alterations in gray and white matter brain structure, and discrepant functional brain activation patterns when compared to nonusing and demographically matched controls. Abnormalities are also observed in teens with a family history of alcoholism, and such differences in neuromaturation may leave youths at increased risk for the development of an alcohol use disorder or increased substance use severity. More prospective investigations are needed, and future work should focus on disentangling preexisting differences from dose-dependent effects of alcohol on neurodevelopment. Intervention strategies that utilize neuroimaging findings (e.g., identified weaknesses in particular neural substrates and behavioral correlates) may be helpful in both prevention and intervention campaigns for teens both pre- and postinitiation of alcohol use.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Development / drug effects*
  • Adolescent Development / physiology
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Humans