Impact of drugs and alcohol on the brain through the life cycle: Knowledge for social workers

Efrain C. Azmitia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article discusses the impact of alcohol and other drugs on the brain during five stages of the life cycle: perinatal (pregnancy-2 years), childhood (2-12 years), adolescence (13-21), adulthood (22-50), and senior (50+). Alcohol and psychotropic drugs act through specific chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters have two main functions in the brain: mediate electrical transmission (synaptic activity) and promote growth (trophic activity). The trophic activity results in a neuron increasing its size and the complexity of its branches (dendrites). The ability of drugs and alcohol to influence neuronal growth (neuroplasticity) has unique consequences in children, adults, and seniors. Knowledge of such biological principles as developmental critical period, age-related cortical shrinkage and steroid-induced neuronal growth is presented in the context of alcohol and other drug abuse. A few suggestions are made for developing new treatment strategies based on the inherent dynamics of the brain during the life cycle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-63
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2001


  • Adolescence
  • Alcohol
  • Children
  • Cocaine
  • Fetus
  • Neuroplasticity
  • Risk
  • Self-medication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Rehabilitation


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