DR. WALLACE: No lectures, please: I just seek factual information with my request here. I'm 17, and I consume a fair share of alcohol. It's mostly beer, but I do imbibe some harder "hooch" once in a while, too.
I read an article in a magazine recently that said alcohol affects the teen brain more than the adult brain, and by affect, I mean harm. Is this a fact? Or do magazines just like to write sensational articles to attract readers? — Drinking Teen, via email
DRINKING TEEN: Although I often warn teens against using alcohol, especially binge drinking, I am not going to lecture you — as per your request. You are wise to seek information on this topic, so I will point to the research of an expert in this field for you to review and consider.
Marisa M. Silveri, Ph.D., is the director of the Neurodevelopmental Laboratory on Addictions and Mental Health at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts and an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Silveri's studies at McLean Hospital and elsewhere have shown that alcohol affects the brains of adolescents in profound and dangerous ways. Here is a useful summary of her findings that can provide you the facts you've requested:
"During the teenage and early adult years, the brain is still developing, making it more vulnerable to alcohol than the adult brain. Moreover, research indicates that the earlier a person starts drinking, the more likely that person will develop serious problems with alcohol or drug addiction later in life." According to Silveri, "Because their minds and bodies are still developing, teens have different responses to the effects of alcohol than adults."
Silveri says, "Adding to the concerns are studies providing scientific evidence that alcohol significantly impairs learning and memory in teens. Adults who drink also experience problems. However, learning and memory are considerably more compromised by alcohol in adolescents than in adults. This is because the brain is undergoing important development toward maturity, including improvements in decision-making functions and associated connections with the memory center, which lasts throughout the teenage years and into a person's early 20s — the exact period of time that alcohol use, and abuse, begin."
Silveri and I agree there is significant evidence that teenage drinking is very dangerous on many levels, especially biologically. I suggest you heed her research and consider the facts she lays out carefully. I promised not to lecture you, and I will not. I can tell you that I've received countless letters over the years from teens, parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, teachers, counselors and clergy who have witnessed and documented heartbreaking circumstances brought about by teenage alcohol consumption, especially binge drinking.
I trust I have provided a thorough answer to your question, and I applaud you for asking about this most important topic.
STAY ON THE SWIM TEAM
DR. WALLACE: Two years ago, I joined a swim team. In that time, I have become a very good swimmer and enjoyed being a member of the team. Both my parents are very proud of me.
This past year, my mother became very ill. She has recovered, but now, she doesn't want to watch me perform because the pool area is hot and steamy, which causes her to get headaches. Because my mom won't be there to give her support, I'm not sure I want to be on the swim team any longer.
My dad really wants me to continue to be part of the swim team. What should I do? — Swimmer, Jacksonville, Florida
SWIMMER: Absolutely, positively stay on the swim team! Maybe Mom can't be there in person, but she'll be with you in spirit. I'm sure she would be extremely disappointed if you stopped swimming because of her. Her being sick is bad enough all by itself. If it causes you to abandon your favorite sport, think how much worse she'll likely feel.
Perhaps she can attend some of your meets for a short while — even a few minutes — and leave before she feels too ill. I assume that your dad can attend at least some of the time. We all need someone cheering for us whenever possible.
But remember that this is also about your own health and well-being. Swimming is an excellent way to stay in shape. It's one of the best possible exercises. You've found a sport and activity you enjoy; my advice is to stick with it as long as it is fun for you.
Dr. Robert Wallace welcomes questions from readers. Although he is unable to reply to all of them individually, he will answer as many as possible in this column. Email him at [email protected] To find out more about Dr. Robert Wallace and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.