Effects Of Alcohol On The Developing Brain – Home » Chapter 3: Effects of Prenatal Alcohol Exposure on Brain Development and Postnatal Functioning » Important Brain Regions in Neuropsychological Effects of Prenatal Alcohol Exposure
In the past, scientists have theorized that the neuropsychological effects in FASD children can be attributed to damage to specific brain structures. Now by using MRI to see the damage in living subjects, researchers are conducting studies to link specific brain region structural damage with specific neuropsychological deficits in FASD children. Below is an overview of the areas most affected by prenatal alcohol exposure and the corresponding neuropsychological problems.
Effects Of Alcohol On The Developing Brain
The cerebral cortex (the outer part of the brain, see figure at right) is responsible for a number of functions involving higher levels of control and organization. Such functions include: sensory and motor control, cognition and abstract thought, working memory, speech and language, and visual and auditory perception. The executive function, which depends on working memory, is related to the cortical areas in the frontal lobe (the prefrontal cortex). Much of the final circuitry within the cerebral cortex is formed during the third trimester, so any or all of these cortical functions may be disrupted if the fetus is exposed to alcohol during this period.
What’s The Connection Between Alcohol And Depression?
The cerebellum (in yellow) is a structure that did not complete its development at birth; It continues to form its cycle at the beginning of the postnatal period. If the fetus is exposed to alcohol already in the third trimester, there can be considerable effects on the function of the cerebellum. In addition to the motor control and coordination provided by the cerebellum, there are several other functions. It helps provide cognitive processing, language fluency acquisition, task sequencing, and time perception and estimation. Children with FASD do not perform well on any of these tasks.
The caudate nucleus is part of the basal ganglia. It also plays an important role in motor function. However, the caudate is also important in cognitive function, motivation and executive function, or the ability to plan and perform specific tasks. FASD children have particular difficulty with executive functioning. The basal ganglia work together with the cerebellum in cognitive and attentional tasks; It can be expected that damage to the consumer by alcohol in utero will cause attention problems that manifest in the classroom.
One of the most consistent defects in brain structure in people with FASD is the reduction in size, shape change, or complete absence of the corpus callosum. Examples of MRI of a normal child and an FAS child with corpus callosum deficiency are shown in Figure 7.
This large bundle of nerve fibers connecting the left and right brain is important in timing tasks, motor tasks and coordination. The failure of the proper development of the corpus callosum leads to slow reaction times and everything from mild cognitive impairment to widespread mental retardation. In an MRI study of children and young adults with FASD, damage to the corpus callosum was specifically related to verbal learning ability. In another study of adults with FASD, different forms of the corpus callosum were associated with deficits in executive function and motor function; It doesn’t matter if there were facial dysmorphologies. Although the corpus callosum is formed around the 10th week of pregnancy, it undergoes a relatively large growth spurt late in pregnancy (around the 6th or 7th month). Drinking during the first trimester can prevent its formation; Drinking during the second or third trimester can affect its shape and ability to communicate with neurons in cortical areas.
Alcohol Brain Damage Symptoms
The main structure in the brain responsible for learning and memory is the hippocampus, although other structures such as the cerebral cortex are also involved. The circuits of the hippocampus are established quite late during pregnancy and exposure of the fetus to alcohol in the third trimester (or before) is expected to have significant effects on learning and memory. Many of the risks associated with underage drinking are directly related to the brain and its functioning. A young child’s brain is developing until around the age of 25. Alcohol can shorten its healthy growth and “rewire” it in ways that cause physical, emotional and social damage to the child.1
Two crucial parts of the brain that control memory, learning, decision making and personality are especially vulnerable to alcohol as a child grows up.
Memory and learning are controlled by a part of the brain called the hippocampus (look it up online with your child to learn more). This part is especially sensitive during your child’s development. Alcohol use can poison the nerve cells and cause permanent damage. This can lead to memory loss and poor performance in school.
The cerebral cortex/frontal lobe (also a good one to look at with your child) is important for planning, judgment, decision making, impulse control and language. This area of the brain changes the most during the teenage years, so if kids drink in elementary school and middle school, there’s real potential for harm later on. The damage that alcohol use can have on the prefrontal lobe can cause emotional instability, aggression, risky behavior and other negative effects in children.
The Adolescent Brain
1 Squeira, L. VC Smith, Comm Subst Abuse, and Committee on Substance Abuse, “Binge Drinking,” Pediatrics 136, no. 3 (2015): E718-E726.
About the same percentage of parents (37%) believe that it is natural for children to experiment with alcohol and trust their child to experiment responsibly.
Tip: To help your child avoid the risks associated with alcohol, it’s important to learn the facts. It is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to drink alcohol – regardless of the situation. And children who start drinking at a young age can be four times more likely to have problems with alcohol later in life.
The more you learn about underage drinking, the more confident you’ll feel in talking to your child about it. Do you occasionally indulge in a glass of wine? you are not alone. More than 85% of adults report drinking alcohol at some point. In 2020, alcohol consumption increased in the US, with heavy drinking increasing by 41% among women.
How Alcohol Misuse Affects The Development Of The Teen Brain
While occasional drinking will not cause health problems, moderate or heavy drinking can affect the brain. Also, alcohol abuse can cause long-term deficits.
Alcohol affects your body quickly. It is absorbed through your stomach lining into your bloodstream. Once there, it spreads to tissues throughout the body. Alcohol reaches your brain in just five minutes, and begins to affect you within 10 minutes.
After 20 minutes, your liver begins to process alcohol. On average, the liver can metabolize 1 ounce of alcohol every hour. A blood alcohol level of 0.08, the legal drinking limit, takes about five and a half hours to leave your system. Alcohol will remain in urine for up to 80 hours and in hair follicles for up to three months.
“Drunkenness occurs when alcohol consumption exceeds your body’s ability to metabolize and break down alcohol,” states Jeffrey T. Johnson, DO, is a board-certified specialist in addiction medicine for Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group.
Effects Of Alcohol On The Body
Your whole body absorbs alcohol, but it really takes a toll on the brain. Alcohol interferes with the communication pathways of the brain. It can also affect how your brain processes information.
The impaired judgment you have when drinking alcohol may make you think you can still drive, regardless of your BAC. Drivers with a BAC of 0.08 or higher are 11 times more likely to be killed in a single-vehicle crash than non-drinking drivers. Some states have higher penalties for people who drive with a high BAC (0.15 to 0.20 or higher) due to the increased risk of fatal accidents.
Your body’s reaction to alcohol depends on many factors. These include your age, gender, general health, how much you drink, how long you drink and how often you usually drink.
Over time, excessive drinking can lead to mental problems, such as depression and anxiety. Abusing alcohol can increase the risk of certain cancers, as well as serious, potentially permanent, brain damage. This can lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS), marked by amnesia, extreme confusion and vision problems. WKS is a brain disorder caused by thiamine deficiency, or vitamin B-1 deficiency. Taking certain vitamins and magnesium, along with not drinking alcohol, may improve your symptoms.
Respect Your Brain
Alcohol can harm your body in many ways. The good news is that within a year of stopping drinking, most cognitive damage can be reversed or improved.
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