Neuro-psychologist Sarai Boelema: no evidence that drinking teenagers perform worse

3 December 2014

According to a new study, there is no evidence that young people will perform worse because of alcohol use. A long-term study of 2,230 Dutch adolescents shows that drinkers perform no worse than non-drinkers when it comes to memory, impulse control and concentration. The study only shows a different maturation of concentration in alcohol-addicted girls.

The Utrecht neuro-psychologist Sarai Boelema, who will receive her PhD on this study on Friday, realizes that the results may come as a surprise. Boelema followed a large group of young people who represent a cross section of the population. According to Boelema virtually all existing studies compare problem drinkers with non-drinkers. "The fact that those drinkers function worse does not say much. It is unclear whether that is the cause or the effect of the alcohol."

State Secretary of Health Martin van Rijn responded critically to the study. "That alcohol is bad for children stands as a pole above water. Opposite this study are numerous studies on the damage caused by alcohol in unborn children, by binge drinking, in children and the relationship with behavioral problems", he says. "I shall continue to put effort into further reducing the use of alcohol among young people." Van Rijn added that this topic deserves continued attention and new research.

Wim van Dalen, director of the Dutch Institute for Alcohol Policy (STAP), emphasizes that there is a series of international studies that show other results. "For me, one study is not conclusive. We should not generalize the results. More research is needed, especially over the long-term effects." According to Van Dalen it is in any case clear from research that regular drinking at an early age is a risk factor for addiction later in life.

Sources: and

boelema-alcohol-use-in-adolescence.pdfboelema-alcohol-use-in-adolescence.pdf (750 kB)


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