New research shows that alcohol consumption among young people is associated with an accelerated decline of the so-called grey matter in the brain. This substance is essential for the optimal performance of certain cognitive functions such as attention and memory. The study was conducted by Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR), Utrecht University, Leiden University and VU University Amsterdam with support from the Hersenstichting (Dutch Brain Foundation).
"The study shows that young people who regularly drink alcohol have an aberrant development of the grey matter, including in the frontal (anterior) part of the brain. This brain area is used for concentration, making decisions, impulse control, noticing mistakes and appreciating rewards. The differences in brain development found may possibly influence these cognitive functions," says lead researcher Prof. Hanan el Marroun (EUR), affiliated with Erasmus University Rotterdam.
Brain scans of young people
To examine the long-term effects of alcohol on the brain, the researchers used data from three previously conducted studies. In these studies, brain scans of younger subjects were taken over the years. Study participants were between the ages of 8 and 29. Co-principal investigator Prof. Ingmar Franken(EUR): "By following young people from an early age, we were able to follow how their brains developed from the moment they started drinking alcohol. The availability of data from the moment before they started drinking alcohol enabled us to better map out the effect of alcohol on the brain."
Causal link to be investigated further
Although the study shows a link between alcohol consumption and brain development, it is difficult to establish a causal relationship. More research is needed for that. "However, this research does show that we are on the right track with youth alcohol policy. We hope that these scientific data will be used in the prevention strategy to reduce possible harmful effects of alcohol."
Auteurs: Hanan El Marroun | Eduard T. Klapwijk | Martijn Koevoets | Rachel M. Brouwer | Sabine Peters | Dennis van’t Ent | Dorret I. Boomsma| Ryan L. Muetzel| Eveline A. Crone | Hilleke E. Hulshoff Pol | Ingmar H. A. Franken In : European Journal of Neuroscience, vol. 54, September 2021 | DOI: 10.1111/ejn.15411