Jared Dion had been out drinking with his friends the night he disappeared. An athletic, 21-year-old sophomore, he was a member of the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse wrestling team and had been an outstanding athlete in his high school days.
That night, Jared didn’t look any different from any of the dozens and dozens of other college students seen leaving one of the local bars. He lost track of his friends and evidently wandered into Riverside Park.
He must have eventually found himself on the bluffs above the river. Whether he missed the warning signs or just wasn’t in any condition to pay attention to them, he came closer and closer to danger. Suddenly he slipped over the edge and into the Mississippi River.
Jared was an average swimmer, and he probably tried swimming back to shore after the shock of the extremely cold water hit him. However, the strong Mississippi current likely pulled him under.
Five days later authorities pulled Jared’s bloated body from the river’s frigid waters. His death was ruled an accident. The autopsy discovered that he had consumed enough alcohol to have a .28 blood alcohol level—nearly three times the level for a person to be considered legally intoxicated in Wisconsin.
Jared was the seventh local college student this past year to die from drowning after a night of binge drinking. As many as 1,400 deaths a year in the United States are linked to college binge drinking (classified as five or more drinks at one sitting), according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Sadly, these needless deaths could all have been avoided had the students obeyed God’s instructions to not get drunk (see, for example, Ephesians 5:18 Ephesians 5:18And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;
American King James Version×).
Interestingly, research now shows that there is an additional reason for young people to avoid binge drinking besides that of obeying God and staying alive. Binge drinking impacts brain development, especially the younger the individual is. Scientists are finding that this is because the adolescent brain is undergoing a shift in the areas where decisions are processed.
Alcohol can inhibit, or even rewire, neuron development not only in the developing areas of the brain, but also in areas already developed. However, the teenage brain seems to have the ability to rebound if the teen stops using alcohol while this brain development is continuing.
Normal brain development: the process of maturing
The human brain is an amazing, and mysterious, organ. With an arm muscle or lung, for instance, we can easily identify stages of development, from babyhood to maturity. But the brain—delicate gray matter encased in solid bone—is a bit more challenging.
Human beings go from knowing nothing to comprehending and controlling our physical world over a period of years. Often in our preschool years, our parents must intervene to prevent us from running into the road. Our young minds can’t yet understand the danger.
As we grow into adolescence, our brains continue to make tremendous leaps, but occasionally there are still signs that there are gaps in our understanding.
How were you thinking?
“What were you thinking?” How many times have we heard that? Perhaps it was said after a particularly embarrassing moment or after a near accident. Yet a better question might be: “ How were you thinking?”
At a certain age in life, usually in the middle teenage years, we can’t wait to grow up. We look forward to our final years of schooling and anxiously await being able to drive a car or old enough to buy alcohol. These are the types of steps we see as hallmarks of being an adult and being independent. In many respects this is a positive development—so we don’t end up living with our parents forever!
In the modern world, however, music, movies and magazines all promote their ideas of an adult lifestyle to younger and younger people who may not be fully equipped mentally and emotionally to handle them.
According to research done by neuroscientist Dr. Deborah Yurgelun-Todd, teenagers and adults process information and make judgments (decisions) using different parts of the brain. She and other colleagues at the McLean Hospital Brain Imaging Center in Boston, Massachusetts, discovered this using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan brains.
The research showed that adults tend to use the frontal lobe portions of the brain, while teenagers use their amygdalae (groups of neurons located deep within the medial temporal lobes). The frontal lobe seems to regulate behavior and be involved in decisions regarding right and wrong and cause/effect relationships. By way of comparison, the amygdalae are involved in more instinctive reactions such as the flight-or-fight response. So the amygdalae seem to be more emotional and more reactive in response to stimuli, while the frontal lobes exercise more control over impulsive behavior.
The changing brain
Without all the scientific jargon, this means the teenage brain is not yet as fully developed as it will be as an adult brain. In fact, there is mounting evidence that the number of neurons in the brain continues to grow and develop throughout childhood and into early adulthood.
As a teenager moves into adulthood, there seems to be a shift in where the brain routes judgment calls—from the amygdalae to the frontal lobe. That is, the brain transitions from making decisions from a more emotionally-based assessment of events to a more rationally-based approach.
Throw into this mix the abuse of alcohol or illegal drugs, or risky behavior in general, and it becomes even more difficult for the adolescent or young adult mind to fully appreciate the consequences of some choices.
This is not to say that the youthful brain does not think rationally or that young people are not held responsible for their actions by God (Ecclesiastes 11:9 Ecclesiastes 11:9Rejoice, O young man, in your youth; and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth, and walk in the ways of your heart, and in the sight of your eyes: but know you, that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.
American King James Version×). It is just that the brain is still going through development. Sometimes it is more rational, and sometimes it is more emotional.
And sometimes it simply doesn’t consider the consequences of certain choices, as shown by the seven binge-drinking college students who drowned in the Mississippi River last year and the hundreds of others who also died while abusing alcohol. This is where obedience to God’s commands on not getting drunk offers an extra level of protection. And herein lies a great truth: God’s way of life is always the best way of life—for young and old.
Keys to vertical thinking
God’s Word brought to light these issues more than 3,000 years ago in the book of Proverbs. A good review of many of these principles can be found at the Web site of our parent organization, the United Church of God (see www.ucg.org/brp/pdf/brp0701pt1.pdf ).
God recorded for us various cautions and instructions on excessive drinking (Proverbs 23:29-35 Proverbs 23:29-35 29 Who has woe? who has sorrow? who has contentions? who has babbling? who has wounds without cause? who has redness of eyes?
30 They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine.
31 Look not you on the wine when it is red, when it gives his color in the cup, when it moves itself aright.
32 At the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like an adder.
33 Your eyes shall behold strange women, and your heart shall utter perverse things.
34 Yes, you shall be as he that lies down in the middle of the sea, or as he that lies on the top of a mast.
35 They have stricken me, shall you say, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again.
American King James Version×), wrong associations (Proverbs 24:1-2 Proverbs 24:1-2 1 Be not you envious against evil men, neither desire to be with them. 2 For their heart studies destruction, and their lips talk of mischief.
American King James Version×), the reward of wisdom (Proverbs 24:3-4 Proverbs 24:3-4 3 Through wisdom is an house built; and by understanding it is established: 4 And by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches.
American King James Version×) and many other topics. The premise of these proverbs is not to limit the possibilities of youth but rather to help young adults make positive transitions into adulthood. Study God’s instructions and apply what you learn. These choices will serve you well now and in the future. VT