By Barry Hulse
Could a person’s inability to make sense of things as an adult be due to the alcohol they drank or the illegal substances they used during adolescence?
The development of the prefrontal cortex in the human brain takes place during adolescence. Therefore, if damage occurs during this time of brain development, brain function may be permanently altered.
Research has shown that damage to the prefrontal cortex affects the ability to weigh the consequences of one’s actions.
“The prefrontal cortex is a part of the brain that helps us decide whether we should take actions or not,” said John J. Woodward, a professor in the department of neurosciences and the Center for Drug and Alcohol Programs at the Medical University of South Carolina. “It weighs the relative risks and benefits of our behavior and normally protects us from risky or dangerous actions or those that may be inappropriate during social situations. When the PFC is damaged or its activity is decreased, behavior can change dramatically and people can lose much of their inhibition and ability to weigh the consequences of their actions.”
Do you have difficulty setting limits and knowing when you need to quit? Do you often wonder
when enough is enough? Are you troubled by not being able to distinguish right from wrong? Do
you struggle with making decisions good verses bad? Do you often find yourself in compromising situations wondering why you chose to do what you did? Do you often regret your previous actions?
These are questions most teenagers answer in the affirmative, and that is perfectly normal since the portion of the brain that deals with these issues is not fully developed until the ages of 24 or 25.
The development of major portions of the frontal lobe takes place in the teen years and that is why many educators focus on teaching information that increases the ability to make informed decisions.
Educators find creative ways for students to develop decision-making skills. Children need to be exposed to making decisions and selecting options in their lives which develop healthy self-esteem and assist in healthy brain development.
Unfortunately, at a time when brain development is crucial for the healthy development of the prefrontal cortex, children are confronted with making decisions about using alcohol, drugs, and other substances that are extremely harmful to the development of their minds. The use of mind-altering substances in adolescence can greatly affect the development of the frontal lobe of the brain and consequently permanently affect their decision-making abilities.
Because the ability to set limits and understand when “enough is enough” is not fully developed in young adults, they find themselves using and often abusing a variety of substances without realizing the permanent damage they are doing to their brains.
Woodward concluded “…that alcohol, at concentrations that are associated with mild to moderate intoxication—blood alcohol levels of 0.08 percent and above—significantly inhibited the function of the NMDA receptor ion channel without affecting AMPA or GABA ion channels…”
“Our results provide an explanation for how alcohol affects the ability of the prefrontal cortex to carry out its normal duties,” he said. “When NMDA receptors are inhibited, as with alcohol, the ability of the neuron to carry out its task is affected, thereby reducing the ability of individuals to control their behavior and possibly leading them to engage in actions that are not beneficial. In other words, the normal risk/benefit assessment that this brain region engages in is disrupted.”
Education on alcohol and drugs is often focused on “just say no,” and that is a good start, but the dialogue needs to include healthy life choices. The choices we make in regards to the foods we eat, the medications we take, the amount of each substance we put into our bodies, are essential to maintaining a healthy body, mind and spirit.
Back in the olden days, as my daughter calls it, our education was continued even at mealtime. Our food was served on trays with compartments for vegetables, fruit, bread, milk and protein.
Every day we went to school, healthy proportions were reinforced with a tray of food that represented healthy limits of food and drink. The example was right in front of us, but some of us just did not catch on.
There are a whole host of disorders associated with the inability to set limits in certain areas of one’s life. They could be prevented by making sure that during the development of the prefrontal cortex, teenagers refrain from the use of alcohol, drugs and other substances that are harmful to the development of the brains.
When large amounts of alcohol are consumed in a short period of time, alcohol poisoning can result. Alcohol poisoning is exactly what it sounds like — the body has become poisoned by large amounts of alcohol. Violent vomiting is usually the first symptom of alcohol poisoning.
Extreme sleepiness, unconsciousness, difficulty breathing, dangerously low blood sugar, seizures, and even death may result. Alcohol poisoning may cause permanent brain damage.
Sometimes we need to have things clearly spelled out for us and then we need to watch a video about it over and over again. The goal of this article is to have you read the information one more time so you can be reminded of its importance.
Setting healthy limits in all aspects of our life is essential for us and our children. Help your children learn how to set healthy limits by setting a good example and providing opportunities for your children to make healthy choices.
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