Beginning to engage in heavy alcohol use during adolescence, as opposed to later in life, is associated with elevated risk for a variety of negative consequences, including the development of an alcohol use disorder. Behavioral studies suggest that poor decision making predicts alcohol use during adolescence; however, more research is needed to determine the neurobiological risk factors that underlie this association. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, brain activation during decision making involving risk and reward was assessed in 47 adolescents (14–15 years old) with no significant history or alcohol or drug use. After baseline assessment, participants completed follow-up interviews every 3 months to assess the duration to onset of binge drinking. Adolescents who made a greater number of risky selections and had greater activation in the nucleus accumbens, precuneus, and occipital cortex during decision making involving greater potential for risk and reward began binge drinking sooner. Findings suggest that heightened activation of reward circuitry during decision making under risk is a neurobiological risk factor for earlier onset of binge drinking. Furthermore, brain activation was a significant predictor of onset to binge drinking, even after controlling for decision-making behavior, suggesting that neurobiological markers may provide additional predictive validity over behavioral assessments. Interventions designed to modify these behavioral and neurobiological risk factors may be useful for curbing heavy alcohol use during adolescence.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Psychiatry and Mental health