Massapequa Takes Action Coalition > Resources > Underage Drinking: Alcohol and Teens Don't Mix > Alcohol and the Teen Brain

The Developing Teen Brain

As our youth navigate high school through young adulthood, underage drinking increases dramatically.  In the Massapequas, youth report having their first drink before the age of fifteen.* Children who begin drinking by age 13 have a 38 percent higher risk of developing alcohol dependence later in life [National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)]. 

*New York Partnership for Success Student Survey: Massapequa Union Free School District (Grades 7-12)

The Brain

brain diagram

Adolescence is a critical time for our youth as their brain is still developing - through the age of twenty-five.

Alcohol and drugs can interfere with the natural development of the brain.

Research indicates exposure to drugs of abuse in adolescence significantly increases youth vulnerability to drugs’ effects because of all the changes occurring in the brain (Nora D. Volkow, M.D., NIDA).

When children begin using alcohol or drugs before the age of fifteen, it increases their likelihood of alcohol or drug dependence into adulthood (NIDA).

Cerebral Cortex

Alcohol slows down the cerebral cortex as it works with information from a person’s senses. In the cerebral cortex, alcohol can affect thought processes, leading to potentially poor judgment. Alcohol depresses inhibition, leading one to become more talkative and more confident. Alcohol blunts the senses and increases the threshold for pain. As the BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) increases, these e­ffects get more pronounced.

Spinal Cord - Central Nervous System

When a person thinks of something they want their body to do, the central nervous system—the brain and the spinal cord—sends a signal to that part of the body. Alcohol slows down the central nervous system, making the person think, speak, and move slower.

Frontal Lobe

The brain’s frontal lobes are important for planning, forming ideas, making decisions, and using self-control. When alcohol aff­ects the frontal lobes of the brain, a person may find it hard to control his or her emotions and urges. The person may act without thinking or may even become violent. Drinking alcohol over a long period of time can damage the frontal lobes forever.


The hippocampus is the part of the brain where memories are made. When alcohol reaches the hippocampus, a person may have trouble remembering something he or she just learned, such as a name or a phone number. This can happen after just one or two drinks. If alcohol damages the hippocampus, a person may find it hard to learn and to hold on to knowledge.


The cerebellum is important for coordination, thoughts, and awareness. A person may have trouble with these skills when alcohol enters the cerebellum. After drinking alcohol, a person’s hands may be so shaky that they can’t touch or grab things normally, and they may lose their balance and fall. Imagine how this eff­ects a person’s ability to drive.


The hypothalamus is a small part of the brain that does an amazing number of the body’s housekeeping chores. Alcohol upsets the work of the hypothalamus. After a person drinks alcohol, blood pressure, hunger, thirst, and the urge to urinate increase while body temperature and heart rate decrease.


The medulla controls the body’s automatic actions, such as a person’s heartbeat. It also keeps the body at the right temperature. Alcohol actually chills the body. Increased consumption of alcohol can lead to unconscious. Needless to say, alcohol's e­ffect on the medulla can be fatal if it is excessive.

Alcohol and Health >>

Underage Drinking and The Law >>

Working Together to Prevent Substance Misuse & Promote Healthy Families