Copyright Goodheart-Willcox Co., Inc. Chapter 9 Alcohol 277 Brain Development Alcohol use has immediate effects on brain function. It also causes long-term effects, especially for young people who start drinking. People who begin drinking early in life experience changes in their brain development. One recent study found that young people who binge drink show permanent changes in their brains, including problems with learning and memory. People who consume large amounts of alcohol on a regular basis can experience issues such as dementia, stroke, memory problems, confusion, and drowsiness. Chronic Diseases A chronic disease lasts three months or more. Over time, drinking too much alcohol can lead to the development of several types of chronic diseases. These may include high blood pressure, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. Another chronic disease associated with heavy drinking is cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is a buildup of scar tissue in the liver. Heavy drinking often causes liver damage. High levels of alcohol cause fat to build up in the liver, which blocks blood flow. Eventually this lack of blood flow can cause cirrhosis (Figure 9.6). Alcohol and Pregnancy When a pregnant woman drinks, the alcohol she consumes passes from her bloodstream to the bloodstream of the fetus. Women who drink during pregnancy risk giving birth to babies with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). This condition results in lifelong physical and mental effects. For example, babies with FASD often experience poor growth (both in the womb and after birth). They may have decreased muscle tone and poor coordination, as well as heart and facial conditions. Delayed development and problems with thinking, speech, movement, and social skills may also occur. Effects on Your Life In the United States, you must be 21 years of age to buy alcohol. Unfortunately, even with this law, many young people have serious problems due to alcohol use. Alcohol use contributes to the deaths of more than 4,300 Americans younger than 21 years of age each year. In addition, alcohol use increases the likelihood of engaging in other risky behaviors. Young people who use alcohol are more likely to use drugs or engage in sexual activities. Alcohol use affects young people’s lives in a variety of ways. It can even cause dangerous situations that lead to accidents and violence. Healthy liver Cirrhosis iStock.com/eranicle Figure 9.6 Cirrhosis of the liver is one of the 15 leading causes of death in the United States. What often causes liver damage?