Does Teen Drinking Affect Metabolism?

By Beth Leipholtz 07/11/18

A recent study examined how underage drinking affected the metabolism of teens ages 13 to 17.

teens holding plastic cups of beer

In addition to it being illegal, underage drinkers now have another reason to refrain from drinking alcohol, as a recent study has determined that teenage alcohol use can negatively impact metabolism. 

The study was based on a previous study done by the same team of researchers at the University of Eastern Finland, which found that drinking may decrease gray matter volume in teenagers' brains. Researchers believe the decrease in gray matter and negative impact on metabolism may be connected. 

"Despite [the participants'] alcohol use being 'normal,' their metabonomic profile and brain gray matter volumes differed from those in the light-drinking participant group,” Noora Heikkinen, a researcher from the University of Eastern Finland’s Institute of Clinical Medicine, told Newsweek.

The recent study was published in the journal Alcohol and was a followup to a study in which data was collected on teens between the ages of 13 and 17 in eastern Finland. 

The original data was collected between 2004 and 2005. At that time, the teens completed questionnaires about their hobbies, family life, lifestyle and substance use.

Additionally, they took a test created by the World Health Organization which is designed to identify alcohol use disorders. Some of the questions had to do with how much alcohol they drank on a typical day of drinking and how often they consumed more than six drinks at a time.

For the recent study, which was done between 2013 and 2015, researchers recruited 40 moderate-to-heavy drinkers and 40 light drinkers. The light drinkers had scored a maximum of two on the World Health Organization test, which meant they drank two to four times monthly.

Moderate-to-heavy drinkers were those who had a score of four or more for males, or three or more for females. This meant drinking two to three or four or more times weekly.

With those participants, researchers measured metabolism and the volume of gray matter in the brain.

In doing so, researchers found that the moderate-to-heavy drinkers had undergone changes in their amino acids and how their energy was processed, when compared to the lighter drinkers. In heavy drinkers, there was also an increase in 1-methylhistamine levels, a substance connected to the amount of gray matter in the brain. 

Heikkinen tells Newsweek that based on the findings, researchers believe histamine production rises in the brains of adolescents who drink heavily. 

“This observation can help in the development of methods that make it possible to detect adverse effects caused by alcohol at a very early stage,” she said. “Possibly, it could also contribute to the development of new treatments to mitigate these adverse effects.”

Heikkinen also added that some of the damage may be reversible if drinking is cut back. 

"There is evidence that at least some of the changes are reversible if the heavy drinking is discontinued,” she told Newsweek. “Therefore all hope is not lost for those who have had their share of parties and binge drinking in the twenties. However, if the heavy drinking is continued for decades, there is a real chance that irreversible brain atrophy will result."

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.