Peter H Brown Clinical Psychologist

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MythBusters: The Human Brain Edition

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Source Credit: 7 Myths About the Brain
Separating Fact From Fiction
By Kendra Cherry, About.com Guide

The human brain is amazing and sometimes mysterious. While researchers are still uncovering the secrets of how the brain works, they have discovered plenty of information about what goes on inside your noggin. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of brain myths out there.

The following are just a few of the many myths about the brain.

Myth 1: You only use 10 percent of your brain.

You’ve probably heard this oft-cited bit of information several times, but constant repetition does not make it any more accurate. People often use this popular urban legend to imply that the mind is capable of much greater things, such as dramatically increased intelligence, psychic abilities, or even telekinesis. After all, if we can do all the things we do using only 10 percent of our brains, just imagine what we could accomplish if we used the remaining 90 percent.

Reality check: Research suggests that all areas of the brain perform some type of function. If the 10 percent myth were true, brain damage would be far less likely – after all, we would really only have to worry about that tiny 10 percent of our brains being injured. The fact is that damage to even a small area of the brain can result in profound consequences to both cognition and functioning. Brain imaging technologies have also demonstrated that the entire brain shows levels of activity, even during sleep.

“It turns out though, that we use virtually every part of the brain, and that [most of] the brain is active almost all the time. Let’s put it this way: the brain represents three percent of the body’s weight and uses 20 percent of the body’s energy.” – Neurologist Barry Gordon of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Scientific American

Myth 2: Brain damage is permanent.

The brain is a fragile thing and can be damaged by things such as injury, stroke, or disease. This damage can result in a range of consequences, from mild disruptions in cognitive abilities to complete impairment. Brain damage can be devastating, but is it always permanent?

Reality check: While we often tend to think of brain injuries as lasting, a person’s ability to recover from such damage depends upon the severity and the location of the injury. For example, a blow to the head during a football game might lead to a concussion. While this can be quite serious, most people are able to recover when given time to heal. A severe stroke, on the other hand, can result in dire consequences to the brain that can very well be permanent.

However, it is important to remember that the human brain has an impressive amount of plasticity. Even following a serious brain event, such as a stroke, the brain can often heal itself over time and form new connections within the brain.

“Even after more serious brain injury, such as stroke, research indicates that — especially with the help of therapy — the brain may be capable of developing new connections and “reroute” function through healthy areas.” – BrainFacts.org

Myth 3: People are either “right-brained” or “left-brained.”

Have you ever heard someone describe themselves as either left-brained or right-brained? This stems from the popular notion that people are either dominated by their right or left brain hemispheres. According to this idea, people who are “right-brained” tend to be more creative and expressive, while those who are “left-brained tend to be more analytical and logical.

Reality Check: While experts do recognize that there is lateralization of brain function (that is, certain types of tasks and thinking tend to be more associated with a particular region of the brain), no one is fully right-brained or left-brained. In fact, we tend to do better at tasks when the entire brain is utilized, even for things that are typically associated with a certain area of the brain.

“No matter how lateralized the brain can get, though, the two sides still work together. The pop psychology notion of a left brain and a right brain doesn’t capture their intimate working relationship. The left hemisphere specializes in picking out the sounds that form words and working out the syntax of the words, for example, but it does not have a monopoly on language processing. The right hemisphere is actually more sensitive to the emotional features of language, tuning in to the slow rhythms of speech that carry intonation and stress.” – Carl Zimmer, Discover

Myth 4: Humans have the biggest brains.

The human brain is quite large in proportion to body size, but another common misconception is that humans have the largest brains of any organism. How big is the human brain? How does it compare to other species?

Reality Check: The average adult has a brain weighing in at about three pounds and measuring up to about 15 centimeters in length. The largest animal brain belongs to that of a sperm whale, weighing in at a whopping 18 pounds! Another large-brained animal is the elephant, with an average brain size of around 11 pounds.

But what about relative brain size in proportion to body size? Humans must certainly have the largest brains in comparison to their body size, right? Once again, this notion is also a myth. Surprisingly, one animal that holds the largest body-size to brain ratios is the shrew, with a brain making up about 10 percent of its body mass.

“Our primate lineage had a head start in evolving large brains, however, because most primates have brains that are larger than expected for their body size. The Encephalization Quotient is a measure of brain size relative to body size. The cat has an EQ of about 1, which is what is expected for its body size, while chimps have an EQ of 2.5 and humans nearly 7.5. Dolphins, no slouches when it comes to cognitive powers and complex social groups, have an EQ of more than 5, but rats and rabbits are way down on the scale at below 0.4.” – Michael Balter, Slate.com

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Myth 5: We are born with all the brain cells we ever have, and once they die, these cells are gone forever.

Traditional wisdom has long suggested that adults only have so many brain cells and that we never form new ones. Once these cells are lost, are they really gone for good?

Reality Check: In recent years, experts have discovered evidence that the human adult brain does indeed form new cells throughout life, even during old age. The process of forming new brain cells is known as neurogenesis and researchers have found that it happens in at least one important region of the brain called the hippocampus.

“Above-ground nuclear bomb tests carried out more than 50 years ago resulted in elevated atmospheric levels of the radioactive carbon-14 isotope (14C), which steadily declined over time. In a study published yesterday (June 7) in Cell, researchers used measurements of 14C concentration in the DNA of brain cells from deceased patients to determine the neurons’ age, and demonstrated that there is substantial adult neurogenesis in the human hippocampus.” – Dan Cossins, The Scientist

Myth 6: Drinking alcohol kills brain cells.

Partly related to the myth that we never grow new neurons is the idea that drinking alcohol can lead to cell death in the brain. Drink too much or too often, some people might warn, and you’ll lose precious brain cells that you can never get back. We’ve already learned that adults do indeed get new brain cells throughout life, but could drinking alcohol really kill brain cells?

Reality Check: While excessive or chronic alcohol abuse can certainly have dire health consequences, experts do not believe that drinking causes neurons to die. In fact, research has shown that even binge drinking doesn’t actually kill neurons.

“Scientific medical research has actually demonstrated that the moderate consumption of alcohol is associated with better cognitive (thinking and reasoning) skills and memory than is abstaining from alcohol. Moderate drinking doesn’t kill brain cells but helps the brain function better into old age. Studies around the world involving many thousands of people report this finding.” – PsychCentral.com

Myth 7: There are 100 billion neurons in the human brain.

If you’ve ever thumbed through a psychology or neuroscience textbook, you have probably read that the human brain contains approximately 100 billion neurons. How accurate is this oft-repeated figure? Just how many neurons are in the brain?

Reality Check: The estimate of 100 billion neurons has been repeated so often and so long that no one is completely sure where it originated. In 2009, however, one researcher decided to actually count neurons in adult brains and found that the number was just a bit off the mark. Based upon this research, it appears that the human brain contains closer to 85 billion neurons. So while the often-cited number is a few billion too high, 85 billion is still nothing to sneeze at.

“We found that on average the human brain has 86bn neurons. And not one [of the brains] that we looked at so far has the 100bn. Even though it may sound like a small difference the 14bn neurons amount to pretty much the number of neurons that a baboon brain has or almost half the number of neurons in the gorilla brain. So that’s a pretty large difference actually.” – Dr. Suzana Herculano-Houzel
More Psychology Facts and Myths:

References

Balter, M. (2012, Oct. 26). Why are our brains so ridiculously big? Slate. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_evolution/2012/10/human_brain_size_social_groups_led_to_the_evolution_of_large_brains.html
Boyd, R. (2008, Feb 7). Do people only use 10 percent of their brains? Scientific American. Retrieved from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=people-only-use-10-percent-of-brain
BrainFacts.org. (2012). Myth: Brain damage is always permanent. Retrieved from http://www.brainfacts.org/diseases-disorders/injury/articles/2011/brain-damage-is-always-permanent
Cossins, D. (2013, June 7). Human adult neurogenesis revealed. The Scientist. Retrieved from http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/35902/title/Human-Adult-Neurogenesis-Revealed/
Hanson, D. J. (n.d.). Does drinking alcohol kill brain cells? PsychCentral.com. Retrieved from http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/HealthIssues/1103162109.html
Herculano-Houzel S (2009). The human brain in numbers: A linearly scaled-up primate brain. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 3(31). doi:10.3389/neuro.09.031.2009
Randerson, J. (2012, Feb 28). How many neurons make a human brain? Billions fewer than we thought. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2012/feb/28/how-many-neurons-human-brain
The Technium. (2004). Brains of white matter. http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2004/11/brains_of_white.php
Zimmer, C. (2009, April 15). The Big Similarities & Quirky Differences Between Our Left and Right Brains. Discover Magazine. Retrieved from http://discovermagazine.com/2009/may/15-big-similarities-and-quirky-differences-between-our-left-and-right-brains
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September 9, 2013 Posted by | Alcohol, brain, Cognition, Education, Health Psychology, research, Technology | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Online Shopping: Is “Drink Buying” A Problem for You?

PHOTO Some online shoppers are indulging their temptations and  making purchases they might not have made if sober.

Andrea calls them “gifts” from her drunk self to her sober self.
Some online shoppers are indulging their temptations and making purchases they might not have made if sober.

When she hasn’t been drinking, the 26-year-old New Yorker says that she rarely does more than browse online retail sites. But give her some booze and the buying begins.

“Get some drinks in me and I’m more likely to bite the bullet and figure out where to store the crap later on,” she said.

Andrea, who asked to withhold her name to protect her privacy, said she’s shopped under the influence more than a dozen times, but the habit comes and goes.

“I’ll do it several times over a month and then forget about it for a while,” she said. “Luckily, I haven’t bought or won anything terribly extravagant. Generally, I am pleasantly surprised about my purchases.”

After her latest late-night spree, she said awoke to the whole Doc Savage comic book series, the movie “Popeye,” with Robin Williams, the children’s book “Mouse Tails,” and (her favorite) the book “Statistics for the Utterly Confused.”

Along with her list of drunken purchases, she posted on her Facebook page, “Can we PLEASE get a breathalyzer on these things?”

While inebriated Internet buying may not be be an epidemic, it’s also not that unusual. A spokesperson for an online retail site, who asked to speak on condition of anonymity, said that intoxicated-sounding shoppers regularly call the site’s customer service asking for help placing orders.

“They’re trying to get a little roadside assistance on the shopping piece,” the spokesperson said, adding that sometimes the customers need technical guidance, while other times it sounds like they just want to hear a friendly voice.

Andrea said she’s partial to things that remind her of childhood memories (her very first drunk purchases were the book “The Phantom Tollbooth” and a whittling kit), but, occasionally, she said she wakes up to the just plain bizarre. “I [bid] on a plaster casting kit, which is rather surprising as I have no idea what I was thinking of doing with it,” she said.

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But no matter what her sober self finds in the morning, she said she never thinks of returning anything. Why? “[I’m] way too embarrassed,” she said. Psychologists say the habit is fairly harmless as long as people don’t take it to extremes or spend extravagantly. “Normally, when we haven’t had a drink or two, our rational selves intercede between the emotion and the action and we say, ‘Oh, I don’t really need that’ or ‘Oh, I don’t have the money right now,'” said John Grohol, a clinical psychologist and founder of the online mental health resource PsychCentral.com. “But alcohol takes that one step away, that rational voice away, and we go directly to the emotion and the behavior.” Source: ABC news

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May 15, 2010 Posted by | Addiction, Alcohol, Books, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Families, Alcohol, Recovery & ‘The Limits Of Love’

I have re-posted this article from psych central as it is a thorough, well written and balanced view of the impact of alcoholism in families, the hope for recovery and the role of families and the community in helping those with substance over-use illnesses: Please read!
By William L. White, M.A. and Robert J. Lindsey, M.Ed., CEAP

Gredit: psychcentral.com

On April 25th, Hallmark Hall of Fame will broadcast the movie “When Love Is Not Enough — The Lois Wilson Story,” starring Winona Ryder and Barry Pepper (CBS, 9:00 pm ET). The movie, which portrays the life of Lois Wilson, co-founder of Al-Anon Family Groups and wife of Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill Wilson, is based on William G. Borchert’s 2005 book, The Lois Wilson Story: When Love Is Not Enough.

Borchert’s earlier screenplay was the basis of the acclaimed movie My Name is Bill W. which starred James Woods, James Garner, and JoBeth Williams. The premiere of the movie also falls during the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc.’s (NCADD) 24th Annual Alcohol Awareness Month with its theme, “When Love Is Not Enough: Helping Families Coping With Alcoholism.”

Lois Wilson fell in love with a man whose alcoholism brought his life and their relationship to the brink before he began his personal recovery and helped found Alcoholics Anonymous. Lois and many of the other wives of early AA members also began to band together for mutual support, formalizing these meetings into Al-Anon Family Groups in 1951.

When Love is Not Enough is the story of Lois Wilson and her life with Bill Wilson. The reach of her and their stories is unfathomable and inseparable from the larger stories of AA and Al-Anon and the influence their lives would exert on the larger story of the professional treatment and recovery of individuals and families affected by addiction to alcohol and other drugs. As William Borchert suggests:

“In the end, Bill Wilson’s alcoholism proved not to be the tragic undoing of this brilliant and loving couple, but rather the beginning of two of the twentieth century’s most important social and spiritual movements- Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon Family Groups.”

There are presently more than 114,500 Alcoholics Anonymous groups (with a combined membership of more than 2 million) and more than 25,000 Al-Anon/Alateen groups (with a combined membership estimated at more than 340,000) hosting local meetings worldwide.

When Love is Not Enough is clearly more than a love story, though it is surely that. Readers of Psych Central and the people they serve will discover in this movie six profound lessons about the impact of alcoholism and alcoholism recovery on intimate relationships and the family.

1. Prolonged cultural misunderstandings about the nature of alcoholism have left a legacy of family shame and secrecy. Centuries of debates between those advocating religious, moral, criminal, psychiatric, psychological, medical and sociological theories of alcoholism failed to offer clear guidance to individuals and families affected by alcoholism. When Love is Not Enough is in part a poignant history of the hidden desperation many families experienced before the birth of Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, and modern alcoholism treatment. Lois Wilson and Anne Bingham helped change that history in 1951 when they organized 87 groups of wives of AA members into the Al-Anon Family Groups.

2. Alcoholism is a family disease in the sense that it also wounds those closest to the alcohol dependent person; transforms family relationships, roles, rules, and rituals; and isolates the family from potential sources of extended family, social, and community support. And, it has far reaching, long-lasting effects on the physical and emotional health of the family and children. When Love is Not Enough conveys the physical and emotional distress of those struggling to understand a loved one who has lost control of drinking and its consequences.

It vividly portrays the disappointment, confusion, frustration, anger, resentment, jealousy, fear, guilt, shame, anxiety and depression family members experience in the face of alcoholism. The recognition that significant others and their children become as sick as the person addicted and are in need of a parallel pathway of recovery were the seeds from which Al-Anon and Alateen grew.

3. The family experience of alcoholism is often one of extreme duality. When Love is Not Enough poignantly conveys this duality: brief hope-inspiring interludes of abstinence or moderated drinking, periods of peacefulness, moments of love and shared dreams for the future — all relentlessly violated by explosive bouts of drinking and their devastating aftereffects. Memories of that lost person and those moments and dreams co-exist even in the face of the worst effects of alcoholism on the family.

It is only in recognizing this duality of experience and the character duality of the alcoholic that one can answer the enigmatic question that is so often posed about Lois Wilson’s contemporary counterparts, “Why does she/he stay with him/her?” As clinicians, we can too often forget that these family stories contain much more than the pathology of alcohol or drug dependence (White, 2006).

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4. Family recovery from alcoholism is a turbulent, threatening and life-changing experience. The hope of all families and children wounded by alcoholism is that the drinking will stop and with it, the arrival of an idyllic family life. Lois Wilson’s story confirms what research on family recovery from addiction is revealing: recovery from alcoholism can destabilize intimate and family relationships. Stephanie Brown and Virginia Lewis (1999), in their studies of the impact of alcoholism recovery on the family, speak of this as the “trauma of recovery.”

People recovering from alcoholism, their families, and their children can and often do achieve optimum levels of health and functioning, but this achievement is best measured in years rather than days, weeks, or months. That recognition in the life of Lois Wilson underscored the need for sustained support for families as they went through this process.

5. We cannot change another person, only ourselves. If there is a central, singular message from Lois Wilson’s life and from the Al-Anon Family Groups program, this may well be it. Al-Anon’s defining moments came when family members stopped focusing on how they could change and control their addicted family member and focused instead on their own need for regeneration and spiritual growth, the overall health of their families and the comfort and help they could offer each other and other families similarly affected.

Their further discovery that AA’s twelve step program of recovery could also guide the healing of family members marks the birth of the modern conceptualization of family recovery. The 2009 Al-Anon Membership Survey confirms the wide and enduring benefits members report experiencing as a result of their sustained involvement in Al-Anon—irrespective of the drinking status of their family members.

6. The wonder of family recovery. As a direct result of Lois’s groundbreaking work in co-founding Al-Anon and the impact it has had on the field of alcohol and drug treatment, family recovery from alcoholism is a reality for millions of Americans today, and the hope, help, and healing of family recovery has become the most powerful way to break the intergenerational cycle of alcoholism and addiction in the family.

The growing interest in the lives of Bill and Lois Wilson — as indicated by a stream of memoirs, biographies, plays, and films — is testimony to the contributions that Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon Family Groups have made to personal and family recovery from alcoholism and to the ever-widening adaptation of the Twelve Steps to other problems of living (Wilson, 1994).

Psych Central readers will find much of value in “When Love Is Not Enough — The Lois Wilson Story,” including the power of Al-Anon as a tool of support for clients living with someone else’s alcoholism. A DVD of the movie and a Viewer’s Guide, for use as a tool in family and community education, will be available at www.hallmarkhalloffame.com on April 25th, the day of the movie’s premiere.

References

Al-Anon membership survey. (Fall, 2009). Virginia Beach, VA: Al-Anon Family Headquarters, Inc.

Borchert, W.G. (2005). The Lois Wilson story: When love is not enough. Center City, MN: Hazelden.

Brown, S., & Lewis, V. (1999). The alcoholic family in recovery: A developmental model. New York & London: Guilford Press.

White, W. (2006). [Review of the book The Lois Wilson Story: When Love is Not Enough, by W. G. Borchert]. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 24(4), 159-162.

Wilson, L. (1979). Lois remembers: Memoir of the co-founder of Al-Anon and wife of the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. New York: Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc.

Additional Resources

Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, 800-4AL-ANON (888-425-2666), Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., ET.

Alcoholics Anonymous

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD).

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April 26, 2010 Posted by | Addiction, Alcohol, Books, depression, diagnosis, Health Psychology, Intimate Relationshps, Marriage, mood, Resources, Spirituality, stress | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Violence and Young People: An Enlightening & Alarming Discussion

On Sunday 27th Feb. I took part in a rich and informed discussion on Violence and Young People on Peter Jan965_logoetzki’s “Talking Life” radio program on which I am a regular guest. I was very much a “third wheel” in this discussion, with the key guests being Dr Steven Stathis, Psychiatrist and Paediatrician, who is a consultant at Royal Children’s Hospital in Brisbane. Steven is also Director of the Child and Family Therapy Unit (CAFTU), and consults at the Youth Detention Centre, Wacol. The other key guest was Dr Mubarak Ali, a researcher in Social Work at Flinders University in Adelaide. Mubarak has done extensive and ground-breaking international research examining child and youth use of the internet and digital technology, and how this usage correlates with violent behaviour. It was a rich discussion with some interesting content and phone calls. If this is a topic which in any way interests you, I would encourage you to take the time to have a listen.

UPDATE: You can now listen to the entire podcast by selecting the links below. These files are now stored in my library internally for easy access: (Free – mp3-internal links) click to play or right click and “save link /target as” to download.

Youth Violence part 1

Youth Violence part 2

Youth Violence part 3

Youth Violence part 4

OR

Peter Janetzki

Peter Janetzki

A podcast of the entire show in easy to listen parts, and podcasts of recent shows can be found here or by clicking on the 96.5 logo.You can listen to the podcast from your browser or with iTunes, Talking Life streams live every Sunday night from from 8-10pm Australian Eastern Standard Time (GMT+10) and you can listen by going to the 96.5 website @ 96five.com and clicking on the home page media player.

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March 4, 2010 Posted by | Adolescence, Alcohol, Bullying, Child Behavior, Education, Identity, Internet, Parenting, Resilience, Technology | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Teenage Drinking:The Critical Need for Better Coping Skills Training

Alcohol abuse statistics show that alcohol abuse among teenagers is increasing in the United States. What are some of the reasons for this? More than a few chemical dependency consultants declare that liquor, wine, and beer advertisements constructed by the media are a significant reason for the proliferation of youth alcohol abuse.

Other alcohol dependency consultants believe that the increase in teenage alcohol abuse is due to the acceptability and accessibility of alcohol in our society.

Still other alcoholism experts claim that many of our teens engage in excessive drinking due to the increased anxiety that they experience.

518ML4q94zL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_From a somewhat different perspective, because both parents in many families are gainfully employed, the lack of parental supervision surely has to play a significant role in the increase in teen alcohol abuse. And last of all, different alcoholism specialists state that the expansion of adolescent alcohol abuse is due, in part, to our “anything goes” society.

Coping Skills and Abusive Drinking

One component of adolescent alcohol abuse that looks like it is lacking in the substance abuse research literature, then again, is the paucity of educational programs that teach students how to augment their coping skills so that their dangerous drinking behavior is drastically reduced or gotten rid of.

More explicitly, science has disclosed the fact that there is an indirect relationship between poor coping skills and excessive drinking. In effect, this means that the poorer the coping skills, the greater the frequency of alcohol abuse. To the degree that this is an accurate argument, why isn’t coping skills training a significant part of the educational core curriculum in all of our high schools, junior high schools, and elementary schools?

A Society That Underscores Youth Coping Skills

Let us create a scenario for the purpose of clarification. Let us imagine a society in which students are trained how to achieve superior coping skills all the way from kindergarten up to and including their final year in high school.

In such a society, when life gets stressful, individuals who are ”coping skills experts” will be able to respond in a healthier and more successful way, contrary to others who fail to put their coping skills into operation.

Stated differently, students who demonstrate good coping skills will be more able to think logically and display top-shelf decision making as opposed to teenagers who, because they were unsuccessful in their attempts to learn quality coping skills, are attracted to the “quick fix” of excessive drinking.

What would happen in the above “ideal” society, moreover, if students not only obtained exceptional coping skills 51OBVAU6WxL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_education but also received an exceptional education that underscored the short term and long term injurious results associated with drug abuse and alcohol abuse? Emphasizing these types of drug and alcohol abuse facts, along with more advanced coping skills training, it is asserted, would help students stay away from the apparent appeal related to adolescent drinking and, accordingly, would radically diminish the alcohol abuse shown by teens in our country.

Teenage Abusive Drinking: Conclusion

There are certainly various compelling reasons why so many of our adolescents drink in a hazardous manner. Such a complicated subject demands a thorough and more pertinent educational and preventative response by our students, parents, politicians, and educators so that our teenagers can learn how to cope with life’s difficulties in a more productive and responsible way rather than gravitating to risky drinking behavior to solve their problems.

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July 23, 2009 Posted by | Addiction, Alcohol, Resilience | Leave a comment