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The Hamilton Spectator
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Tuesday February 21, 2012
Frequent drinking can lead to changes in the processing of alcohol cues that can, in turn, facilitate renewed drinking if an individual's ability and motivation to reflect on drinking behaviors are insufficient. A study investigating the interaction between automatically activated approach tendencies and the ability and motivation to reflect on drinking behaviors in young adolescents with limited drinking experience has found that stricter parental rules about drinking are highly protective, especially for males.

"With repeated alcohol use, cues that are previously associated with alcohol use such as the sight of a beer bottle become increasingly important," explained Sara Pieters, a researcher at Radboud University Nijmegen and corresponding author for the study. "This might be due to alcohol-induced changes in the brain's reward system and the formation of memory associations."

The term "approach tendencies," Pieters added, can be understood by asking if a person is inclined to approach or to avoid a stimulus. "In most people," she said, "tendencies to avoid are automatically triggered by threatening stimuli such as a snake, and approach-tendencies can be triggered by appetitive stimuli such as water when thirsty. In heavy drinkers, stimuli that have been associated with alcohol use automatically trigger a tendency to approach."

"Studies have shown that adolescence is marked by a temporal lag in the maturation of two brain systems, one related to emotional and motivational processes, one to control behavior and thoughts," added Rebecca de Leeuw, a postdoctoral researcher at Radboud University Nijmegen. "Whereas the former develops relatively fast during puberty, the latter continues to develop until adulthood, around 25 years of age. This means that adolescents are more likely to engage in reckless behavior. Continued...


Strict parental rules about drinking can curb adolescent impulses to drink
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