Magruder High School held an “Alcohol and the Developing Brain” symposium Feb. 19.
The symposium served as a preview for the county’s first “Brain Science Health Exhibition,” which will be held March 4 and 5 at Magruder. Local neuroscientists will discuss the effects of premature alcohol consumption on the brain.
The symposium gave parents and students a chance to learn about the consequences of underage drinking. The event is especially applicable to the Magruder community, which lost two students in a drunk driving accident two years ago.
“It grips you like nothing else,” principal Leroy Evans said of the loss. “You don’t have a chance to reverse it; that’s why it’s so important to respond.”
The symposium featured two neuroscientists from the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Dennis A. Twombly and Dr. Patricia Powell, who presented current trends of underage drinking, alcohol in the context of brain development and advice for parents.
By eighth grade, three in every ten students have consumed alcohol; in tenth grade that number almost doubles, and by senior year, three-fourths of students have at least tried it, Twombly said.
“Alcohol is the drug of choice among youth,” Twombly said. “But many don’t realize the acute and long-term consequences.”
Mounting research suggests that alcohol has a larger effect on the brain development in teenagers than previously thought. Those who begin drinking before the age of 14 have a 47% chance of becoming alcohol dependent at some point in their lives, while those who wait until the legal age have only a 9% chance, Powell said.
“When you think of alcoholics, you often think of that guy in the gutter, not your kid,” Powell said. “Many kids in college are heavy drinkers, but that isn’t where they started drinking.”
The presenters also emphasized the popularity of binge-drinking among teenagers. Binge-drinking is defined as more than five drinks for men and more than four drinks for women within a two-hour period.
This leads to frequent “blackouts,” a type of memory loss that used to be associated with advanced adult alcoholism, he said.
Binge-drinking can lead to a greater risk for accidents, organ damage and dependence later on in life than daily drinking at a moderate level, Twombly said.
With guidance, Powell said parents can play a vital role in helping their children develop healthy attitudes toward drinking. She recommends an authoritative parenting style: high control and discipline along with high warmth and responsiveness. Parents also need to be credible so their children will take them seriously, she said.
“Don’t overstate data or use scare tactics like saying, ‘drinking is like taking a baseball bat to your head,’” Powell said. “That never works.”