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Safe and Drug-Free Schools: Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs

Why Prevention is Important

Adolescent Brain Development

The adolescent brain is unique and differs from that of younger children and adults in a variety of ways particularly with respect to the affects of alcohol, tobacco, and drug use. The brain circuits that are involved in the development of addictions are the same ones that are constantly changing during adolescence. Alcohol and drug use in adolescence can have both short and long term effects on cognition. The long-term effects are vast, particularly in the hippocampus and frontal lobes of the brain.

There is also strong research that shows youth who engage in risky drinking behaviors, such as binge drinking, are unlikely to "catch-up" in their learning abilities in adulthood. Teens only need to drink half of what adults do to equally suffer negative effects. This also makes young drinkers today more likely to have difficulty in finding future employment, continuing education, marriage, and financial stability as well as having an increased chance of alcohol abuse as adults.

Research has found that the following brain functions are affected when young people drink.

  • Vocabulary, memory and memory retrieval are significantly impaired.

  • Verbal and non-verbal information recall is impaired.

  • Learning and memory is also affected by how alcohol affects a young person's sleep cycle.

  • Youth that drink are known to have an increase in difficulties in school and social interactions, depression, and violence on themselves and others around them.

  • Alcohol can impair judgment and the person's ability to make good choices and consider possible future consequences of their actions.


"The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has released a new document, Drugs, Brains and Behavior – The Science of Addiction, highlighting new research on the effects of drug use on brain functioning". Link to

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2005). The science behind drug abuse: The brain and addiction. Retrieved from

For further resources visit:

Alcohol and the Adolescent Brain – Research from National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Many people begin to drink alcohol during adolescence and young adulthood. Alcohol consumption during this developmental period may have profound effects on brain structure and function. Heavy drinking has been shown to affect the neuropsychological performance (e.g., memory functions) of young people and may impair the growth and integrity of certain brain structures.

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