Your kid’s brain, and how alcohol, pot, and other drugs can mess with its development

So much is going on in brain science these days: it’s all pretty exciting and illuminating.

Scientists can scan brains and see, for example, how the brain of someone with schizophrenia differs from someone who doesn’t have it. They also understand more about the biology of addiction, and they know that our brains apparently don’t stop growing and developing until we’re 25. So, there are apparently biological, anatomical reasons for why, for example, our middle-schoolers have trouble organizing all those damned pesky homework binders, and our teen-agers act like idiots. Why they truly don’t get long-term consequences of risky behavior, including having sex before they are ready and using and abusing alcohol, pot, and other drugs.
(For the record, I was a teen-aged idiot. Big time!)

If you want to learn more about the impact of alcohol and other drugs on your kids’ brains, you’re invited to attend a free talk Tuesday evening by drug educator Ralph Cantor at Stanley Intermediate School in Lafayette.

How Drugs Hijack the Teenage Brain: Do you really know how marijuana and alcohol interfere with the learning that is supposed to take place during the teenage years?

That’s the title of the talk, which starts at 7 p.m., and here’s how it is described:

Adolescence is the time when teens are supposed to be working on self identity, dealing with stress, boredom, emotional growth, intellectual development and learning to socialize with others. Drugs and alcohol not only impair decision-making abilities but also interrupt your child’s ability to master these evelopmental tasks. Join us at Stanley for an informative evening and Q & A with esteemed Drug Educator, Ralph Cantor and the Stanley Counseling Staff. The talk is sponsored by Stanley’s Parent Teacher Association.

Meanwhile, middle school is not too early to start talking to kids about alcohol, drugs, etc. We all knew that, right?

And, the “just say no” approach is so Nancy Reagan ‘80s.

This view comes from a host of articles I came across while searching around for research on drugs, alcohol, and child brain development–and on educating kids on the risks associated with early substance use and abuse.

Here’s one. When ‘Just Say No’ Isn’t Enough: Try Science, from Science Daily:

Teens are fascinated by their brains, the way they work, change, and even “freeze” sometimes. The American Association for the Advancement of Science recommends that parents, teachers and caregivers use that fascination to engage middle and high school students this holiday season in a discussion of why they shouldn’t drink alcohol.

Scientists used to believe that human brains finished developing before adolescence. But according to The Science Inside Alcohol Project, an alcohol education effort of the AAAS that is funded by the National Institute on Alcohol abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), new and ongoing brain research shows that important brain regions and their interconnections are still developing well into a person’s twenties … Alcohol can damage or even kill neurons, perhaps altering development of those parts of the adolescent brain that are still forming.

Alcohol can cause kids to make bad decisions, develop a tolerance for alcohol and drink more, take risks, harm their memories.

Other articles for your perusal: Middle Schoolers And Alcohol: Tips For Parents , and Access To Alcohol Among Middle School Children (Hint: they get it from us! Duh! )

Meanwhile, there is a whole body of research on possible links between alcohol, marijuana, and other drug use and mental illness, particularly the use of cannabis and the onset of psychosis linked to schizophrenia. This research gets into the whole chicken-egg question. Does marijuana use cause schizophrenia? (IMHO, I strongly doubt it.) Or do kids at risk of schizophrenia and other mental illnesses use pot, alcohol, and other drugs to self-medicate, to quiet the anxiety, depression, mania, and voices associated with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses?

But then, does use of these substances provide what you might call an environmental trigger for genetically vulnerable kids? If a child, preteen, or teen, vulnerable to a mental illness, becomes a heavy pot user at an early age, will the drug trigger the psychosis that was lurking there, ready to emerge?

Fascinating stuff. Important stuff, especially for parents of children whose families have histories of addiction to alcohol and drugs and histories of mental illness.

Hmm, that’s probably about 90 percent of the population, right?

But if you’re interested, here is another article on research into the substance abuse/mental illness link among children and teens:

Research is underway at Rutgers University that seeks to examine links between children’s mental health problems and alcohol, nicotine, and illegal drug use over time. It is very common for people who have schizophrenia to also suffer from addictions – and this new research is targeted at better understanding this problem.

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