Why Certain Teens Are More Susceptible to Alcohol Use Disorder

A little bit of nature, a little bit of nurture

Why Certain Teens Are More Susceptible to Alcohol Use Disorder
By Tanner Garrity / October 21, 2019 1:59 pm

Negative urgency is defined as the tendency to act rashly when distressed, and is characterized by neuroticism, low conscientiousness and disagreeableness. It’s regrettable behavior during periods of confusion and angst, basically, and it sums up the M.O. of most teenagers on the planet. Unsurprisingly, it’s also closely related with alcohol use disorder in young people.

The national discussion on teenage drinking has long seesawed between two extremes: “Don’t do it” speeches from health teachers and Linklater reverence from Hollywood. But lately, adolescent alcohol use disorder is getting its due with legitimate studies from scholars in genetics.

The New York Times reported on the work of Dr. Frances Wang, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Pittsburgh, who assessed the relationship between serotonin functioning and a number of disorders; she found that poor serotonin predicted behavioral tendencies like anti-sociality or aggression, which then predicted alcohol use. Discrepancies in serotonin functioning also lead to negative urgency, which can encourage drinking as a misinterpreted out.

It’s a new, important argument for the role of genetics in compelling alcohol abuse — a concept long since established for adult alcoholics, but largely left unexplored in young people. Of course, the environment plays a role, too. As someone who graduated from high school in this decade, I can confirm that “peer pressure” is alive and well when it comes to drugs and alcohol.

But other studies, like this one published by an assistant professor at Virginia Tech, contend that that pressure isn’t so obvious anymore. Teenagers aren’t necessarily having beers shoved into their face; they’re simply surrounded by it at all times, and associate “positives” (like strong romantic relationships, for example, or time away from parents) with having a few drinks.

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