Alcohol and Brain Development in Adolescents and Young Adults: A Systematic Review of the Literature and Advisory Report of the Health Council of the Netherlands

Janette de Goede, Kerstin G van der Mark-Reeuwijk, Kees P Braun, Saskia le Cessie, Sarah Durston, Rutger C M E Engels, Anna E Goudriaan, Karel G M Moons, Wilma A M Vollebergh, Taco J de Vries, Reinout W Wiers, Jaap Oosterlaan

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Young people, whose brains are still developing, might entail a greater vulnerability to the effects of alcohol consumption on brain function and development. A committee of experts of the Health Council of the Netherlands evaluated the state of scientific knowledge regarding the question whether alcohol negatively influences brain development in young people. A systematic literature search for prospective studies was performed in PubMed and PsychINFO, for longitudinal studies of adolescents or young adults ranging between 12 and 24 y of age at baseline, investigating the relation between alcohol use and outcome measures of brain structure and activity, cognitive functioning, educational achievement, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), with measures at baseline and follow-up of the outcome of interest. Data were extracted from original articles and study quality was assessed using the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale. A total of 77 studies were included, 31 of which were of sufficient quality in relation to the study objectives. There were indications that the gray matter of the brain develops abnormally in young people who drink alcohol. In addition, the more often young people drink or the younger they start, the higher the risk of developing AUD later in life. The evidence on white matter volume or quality, brain activity, cognitive function, and educational achievement is still limited or unclear. The committee found indications that alcohol consumption can have a negative effect on brain development in adolescents and young adults and entails a risk of later AUD. The committee therefore considers it a wise choice for adolescents and young adults not to drink alcohol.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1379-1410
Number of pages32
JournalAdvances in nutrition
Issue number4
Early online date2 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2021


  • adolescents
  • alcohol
  • brain
  • epidemiology
  • ethanol
  • public policy
  • young adults

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