Alcohol use across the lifespan: An analysis of adolescent and aged rodents and humans

Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2015 Jun:133:65-82. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2015.03.015. Epub 2015 Apr 2.


Adolescence and old age are unique periods of the lifespan characterized by differential sensitivity to the effects of alcohol. Adolescents and the elderly appear to be more vulnerable to many of alcohol's physiological and behavioral effects compared to adults. The current review explores the differential effects of acute alcohol, predominantly in terms of motor function and cognition, in adolescent and aged humans and rodents. Adolescents are less sensitive to the sedative-hypnotic, anxiolytic, and motor-impairing effects of acute alcohol, but research results are less consistent as it relates to alcohol's effects on cognition. Specifically, previous research has shown adolescents to be more, less, and similarly sensitive to alcohol-induced cognitive deficits compared to adults. These equivocal findings suggest that learning acquisition may be differentially affected by ethanol compared to memory, or that ethanol-induced cognitive deficits are task-dependent. Older rodents appear to be particularly vulnerable to the motor- and cognitive-impairing effects of acute alcohol relative to younger adults. Given that alcohol consumption and abuse is prevalent throughout the lifespan, it is important to recognize age-related differences in response to acute and long-term alcohol. Unfortunately, diagnostic measures and treatment options for alcohol dependence are rarely dedicated to adolescent and aging populations. As discussed, although much scientific advancement has been made regarding the differential effects of alcohol between adolescents and adults, research with the aged is underrepresented. Future researchers should be aware that adolescents and the aged are uniquely affected by alcohol and should continue to investigate alcohol's effects at different stages of maturation.

Keywords: Adolescent; Aged; Alcohol; Cognition; Motor.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / drug effects*
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Alcoholism / diagnosis
  • Alcoholism / therapy
  • Animals
  • Ataxia / chemically induced
  • Ataxia / epidemiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / chemically induced
  • Cognition Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Hippocampus / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Motor Skills / drug effects*
  • United States / epidemiology