What Alcoholism Looks Like in the Developing Brain? Causes, Risk Factors, and Treatment

When people think of addictions, they often think of things like drugs, gambling or even food. But what most people don’t realize is that alcohol addiction can be just as dangerous and life-threatening as any other kind of addiction. In fact, alcohol abuse is the third leading preventable cause of death in the U.S., directly responsible for killing approximately 90,000 Americans every year.

If you know someone who might be struggling with alcohol addiction, or if you are concerned that you may have a problem yourself, this article will help you understand what alcoholism looks like in the developing brain and how it affects young people in particular.

What does Alcoholism Look Like?

If you are wondering how alcoholism looks, the best way to describe it would be as a kind of “snowball effect.” People who abuse alcohol tend to start out with intentions of just drinking socially. But as time goes on, they start to drink more and more and more until it effectively consumes their whole life. In the early stages of alcoholism, things like work, school and family obligations start to slip as the need for alcohol becomes more and more important.

Over time, the person’s relationships with others will be severely strained, and they’ll begin to experience a variety of different health issues as a result of their drinking. People who have a problem with alcohol often have very different drinking patterns than people who just occasionally have a drink or two. People who abuse alcohol will often drink alone, often starting the day with a drink to “wake themselves up.”

The Dangers of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol use disorders (AUDs) are one of the most common types of addictions. They are also one of the most dangerous. Alcoholism comes with a number of potentially life-threatening health problems, including:

1. Liver Damage

Liver damage

Alcohol is toxic to the liver, and chronic abuse can cause liver damage that can lead to liver failure or even death.

2. Pancreatitis


Excessive alcohol consumption can cause inflammation of the pancreas, which can be very painful and even life-threatening.

3. Heart Problems

Heart problems

Alcohol abuse can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, which can all increase the risk of heart disease.

4. Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections

Alcohol consumption has been linked to an increased risk of pneumonia, especially in people over 40.

5. Mental Health Issues

Mental health issues

Chronic alcohol abuse can lead to disorders like depression and anxiety.

How Alcohol Affects the Developing Brain

As alluded to earlier, alcohol affects young people’s developing brains a great deal more than it does the brains of adults. This is one of the reasons why alcoholism is so dangerous in teens. For starters, alcohol can cause significant and irreversible damage to the still-developing areas of the brain that are responsible for memory, learning and impulse control. This can lead to things like having a difficult time remembering how to do schoolwork and get good grades.

People who abuse alcohol when they are teens can also be more likely to experience mood disorders like depression and anxiety, have a higher risk of suicide, and have a harder time controlling their emotions and regulating their impulses. Furthermore, because the brain continues to develop until a person is somewhere in their mid-20s, teens.

Who abuse alcohol can actually physically interfere with the normal maturation of their brains. This can cause things like developmental delays and hinder their ability to function at their full potential. This is why it is so important to intervene when you see signs of alcohol abuse in people who are still in their teens.

Strategies to Help Someone Recover from Alcohol blue-border Addiction

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol addiction, there is hope for recovery. Many treatment programs have been designed to help people quit drinking and get their lives back on track.

  • Treatment for alcohol addiction is usually a combination of therapy and medications, such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. 
  • Therapy can help people understand the reasons behind their alcohol use and can provide tools for managing difficult emotions. 
  • Medications can help reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms that often come with quitting alcohol. 
  • Peer support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, can help people stay accountable and give them a support network. 
  • Family therapy can help people understand the impact their loved one’s alcohol use has had on the family. 
  • Aftercare programs, like sober living communities, can help people stay sober and avoid relapse after they’ve completed treatment.


Alcoholism is a very dangerous and serious addiction that can wreak havoc on a person’s life and the lives of their loved ones. While alcoholism can be a very challenging and difficult condition to overcome, it is absolutely possible with the right support and treatment. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol abuse, it is important to get treatment before the situation gets even worse.

There are a variety of different treatments for alcohol addiction that are proven to be effective, including in-patient rehab, outpatient therapy, self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, and medications like naltrexone or Vivitrol that can help prevent cravings and relapse. While alcoholism can be a very challenging and difficult condition to overcome, it is absolutely possible with the right support and treatment.


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