Brain Science Research Findings Misrepresented and Distorted

Activists, newspapers and others warn us that consuming alcohol by those under age 21 is damaging to the young brain and that it "may have long-lasting effects on intellectual capabilities," that it may interrupt key processes of brain development" and "alcohol–induced brain damage may persist," that it "can cause learning problems," "can cause irreversible brain damage," that it "impairs crucial aspects of youthful brain development," that it "can do long-term and irreversible damage to critical neurological development that is ongoing during the teen-age years and continues until age 20."

Never mentioned is the fact that virtually all such research is based on rats or people in treatment for alcohol abuse or alcohol and drug abuse. It does not examine the effects of light or moderate drinking and there is good evidence that these levels of drinking are not at all harmful.

For example, Greeks, Italians, French, Spaniards, Portuguese, Jews and many other groups typically begin drinking at a very early age and do so frequently. Yet there is no evidence that these groups suffer any cognitive or other brain disability as a result.

Because he is concerned over the gross exaggerations and misrepresentation of brain research findings, one of the leading neuroscientists in the United States joined the board of directors of Choose Responsibility. The latter is an organization devoted to promoting reasoned discussion about how to reduce alcohol abuse among young people.

Dr. Swartzwelder is Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University. He conducts pioneering work on the effects of alcohol on the brain during both prenatal and adolescent periods of development. Professor Swartzwelder holds a Ph.D. in biopsychology and has published more than 100 research papers in scientific and professional journals related to drug effects on the brain and behavior, and has served on multiple scientific review panels for the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

This website does not provide medical opinion or advice and none should be inferred.


  • Barrett Seaman, Is Age 21 Working? Beyond Amethyst conference, Hampshire College, April 24, 2009; Choose Responsibility website.

Filed Under: Brain | Misinformation