CNN, Drunk Girls and Army Suicides

“Brain in the News” is a weekly commentary on how brain science relates to the news. The brain is involved in everything we do. Wherever there are human stories the brain is involved. From the impact of war and natural disasters on the brain to drug abuse scandals to courtroom dramas to politics the brain is in the news, and you can read about it here.

I am scheduled to appear on CNN tonight between 8-9EST to discuss the judgment of teens and young women who post “drunken girls gone wild” photos on internet sites such as Facebook or My Space. As if the hangover wasn’t bad enough, thousands of young women have the added humiliation of millions of people seeing their stupidity on the internet. It is no longer just for Britney Spears or Paris Hilton. Being a child and adolescent psychiatrist, plus having three young adult children, including a 20 year old daughter, the images are concerning and disturbing. Many of the images are women who are passed out drunk or in compromising positions (either sexually or sitting over the toilet with their faces in a trash can).

Alcohol lowers the function of the prefrontal cortex, and causes problems with judgment and impulse control. There is little forethought with these postings. Today, employers are searching the behavior of potential employees on the web. Try to find a job years later and your employer may find one of the images posted in a lapse of good sense, which makes him or her nervous about hiring you. At the Amen Clinics we treat many people who have substance abuse problems or problems with ADHD or brain injuries, all of whom exhibit issues with judgment and impulse control. Balancing the brain helps balance their thoughtfulness and forethought.

Brain imaging can tell how your brain functions, and when people see their brains, they develop brain envy and want a better brain, so they stop doing stupid things to it. On a similar note, according to a report in USA Today, US Army suicides are up this year to 109. The highest previous year since 1990 was 102 in 1991. Suicides in the Army are 60% higher than the civilian population: 18/100,000 vs. 11/100,000. Suicide is associated with loss and hopelessness. Suicide is more common in young males, especially before age 25, as the prefrontal cortex is not yet finished developing, so forethought is a problem for them. Suicide is also more common in brain injuries. Brain injuries are the signature wound of the Iraq war, with more than 20,000 going unreported, in one estimate in another report in USA Today.

Suicide often results from very low activity in an area of the frontal lobes called area 25. When that area is hyperactive people with depression get well from treatments such as Prozac. When this area is low, people tend to have no response or negative responses to traditional antidepressants. The Army spends 100 million dollars a year on prevention programs, but rarely ever look at soldiers brains who suffer from depression. It is easy to assume someone is weak willed and pass these people off as personality disordered, but I how do you know unless you look. Brain imaging can provide valuable clues to treatment.

Until next time, please know that success starts with a healthy brain. Failure is often the result of a brain gone wrong. The good news is that no matter how bad you have been to your brain it is never too late to change your brain and change your life.

To your brain health,

Daniel Amen, MD

Daniel Amen, M.D.
CEO, Amen Clinics, Inc.
Distinguished Fellow, American Psychiatric Association

Dr. Amen’s Upcoming Appearances

Dyslexia Awareness & Resource Center
Santa Barbara City College: Garvin Theatre,  Santa Barbara, CA  More…
Nature’s Sunshine Products
Hyatt Regency Houston,  Houston, TX  More…
West Virginia Counseling Association (Eastern Region)

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