Half of all new alcohol initiates are between 12 and 17 years old. This is a period of intense neurodevelopment, including changes in functional connectivity patterns among higher-order function areas. A study sought to understand how alcoholrelated neurotoxicity may be influenced by drinking onset age.
The effects of age of first drink on frontoparietal context-dependent functional connectivity during a visual working memory task were prospectively examined. Youth 13.5 years of age (SD = 1.2) underwent a neuropsychological and neuroimaging session before drinking initiation and at followup 6 years later. Hierarchical linear regressions examined if youth with earlier ages of onset for first and weekly alcohol use showed higher followup context-dependent functional connectivity between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and posterior parietal cortex regions of interest and whole-brain exploratory regions, controlling for predrinking context-dependent functional connectivity. Higher follow-up context-dependent functional connectivity was hypothesized to be correlated with poorer performances in neuropsychological performance. Exploratory whole-brain analyses showed that earlier ages of weekly drinking onset were associated with higher context-dependent functional connectivity between the bilateral posterior cingulate and cortical and subcortical areas implicated in attentional processes, which was in turn associated with poorer performance on neuropsychological tasks of attention. No relationship between age of onset and context-dependent functional connectivity between the two ROIs were found.
Earlier ages of weekly alcohol use initiation may adversely affect neurodevelopment by reducing developmentally appropriate integration of attentional circuits during a cognitive challenge. Delaying the onset of weekly alcohol use patterns well after early adolescence may reduce the risk for harm of alcohol use on the brain.
Source: Earlier alcohol use onset prospectively predicts changes in functional connectivity. Nguyen-Louie TT, Simmons AN, Squeglia LM, Alejandra Infante M, Schacht JP, Tapert SF. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2018 Jan 6. doi: 10.1007/s00213-017-4821-4.