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MRI Technique Predicts Future Alcohol Abuse in Teenagers

Researchers have developed a new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique to determine the likelihood that a teenager will develop binge drinking habits later in life, according to a study recently published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

 

People between the ages of 12-20 make up 11 percent of alcohol consumption in the United States. In 2018, over 25 percent of adults reportedly binge drank in the past month. According to the American Addiction Centers, 90 percent of alcohol use is considered binge drinking among 12 to 20 year-olds.

 

To understand the probability of an adolescent developing a binge drinking habits, the researchers from the University of California San Diego implemented a technique called blood oxygen level dependent, or BOLD. The method creates functional MRI images that are connected to the cerebral blood flow indicated by activity in brain regions. The objective of the technique is to establish a possible neural marker that could identify which teenagers would abuse alcohol when they entered adulthood and devise interventions that might delay alcohol use.

 

The researchers used BOLD MRI on 29 participants who drank minimal alcohol between the ages of 12 and 14, and over the course of the study, 15 had evolved into binge drinkers. The BOLD inhibitory control test was used to determine blood flow changes that happened in tandem with neuron activation.

 

In the group’s initial imaging round at age 18, participants were asked to press a button when they saw any shape that wasn’t a small square on a screen. The researchers noted that the strength of the BOLD signal was an indicator as to when in life a teenager would start binge drinking. They found that the weaker the signal, the sooner they started on a path of alcohol abuse.

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