UC Merced

What really happens to the adolescent brain when teens use drugs or alcohol?

California’s legalization of recreational marijuana and the nation’s ongoing opioid crisis have many parents worried that their own teenagers might succumb to the temptations of drugs and alcohol.

At this year’s installment of the Vital and Alice Pellissier Family Distinguished Lecture Series — “Alcohol, Drugs and the Adolescent Brain” — concerned parents and curious members of the community can hear Professor Sandra A. Brown explain what really happens to adolescent brains when teens inhale, ingest or imbibe. The talk, which is free and open to the public, is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Art Kamangar Center at the Merced Theatre.

It’s a subject Brown knows well as vice chancellor for research at UC San Diego and a distinguished professor of psychology and psychiatry. She’s spent decades studying the effects of drugs and alcohol on adolescent development and the adolescent brain.

“Early on, I focused on understanding special problems and issues with adolescents and young adults,” Brown said. “I looked at how they fare after treatment and how they get better. We already knew that for adults, addiction could cause transient and longer-lasting effects.”

Though teenagers are resilient, Brown discovered that the neurocognitive impact on teens could also be significant.

“Even modest amounts of drug and alcohol use can have short-term effects — one week to a month — on the thinking ability of youth,” Brown says. “Since it’s their job to be in school and learn, we need a deeper appreciation of the fact that recreational substance use could have an impact on thinking abilities that could be a detriment to school performance.”

Since teenage brains are still developing, substance abuse at an early age can also have long-term consequences as teens progress into adulthood.

The annual Vital and Alice Pellissier Distinguished Speaker Series was made possible by a generous gift from the Pellissier family to UC Merced.

Berkeley Law Dean Speaks Up for Free Speech

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law, shared that and other messages with students, faculty, staff and administrators at UC Merced last week as part of the Chancellor’s Dialogue on Diversity and Interdisciplinarity lecture series.

“All ideas and views can be expressed on college campuses,” Chemerinsky said. “The First Amendment applies to government. The government can never suppress, create liability or punish people based on their views or ideas. As we talk about free speech on this or any public university, we need to be mindful of the law.”

But that doesn’t mean hateful speech gets a pass. Campuses have a legal obligation to protect free speech, but they also have a moral obligation to provide an inclusive environment. When faced with hate speech on campus, Chemerinsky said, the best response can be to exercise one’s own rights by denouncing hateful speech and actions, by organizing counter demonstrations, sit-ins, teach-ins and silent protests, or by distributing fliers at an event where someone is speaking.

“Words do matter, and one of the most important things (campus administrators) can do to validate students who would be upset by hateful speech is to strongly denounce it,” Chemerinsky said. “The best remedy to speech we don’t like is more speech.”

Chemerinsky, one of the nation’s leading experts on the First Amendment and Constitutional law, spent the day on campus discussing free speech issues and answering students’ questions. He spent time with pre-law students from lecturer Mark Harris’ classes, and his visit culminated with the afternoon lecture, which included questions from the audience and a panel of students.

UC Merced Connect is a collection of news items written by the University Communications staff. To contact them, email communications@ucmerced.edu.