Substance Abuse

Brain Patterns in Teens Linked to Risk for Substance Abuse

A study published online in Nature Neuroscience indicate that networks of neurons identified recently suggest that some teens are more likely to smoke, experiment with drugs, and binge drink.

The results of the study shed light into the question of whether certain brain patterns precede drug use, or are caused by it. Psychiatrist Prof. Hugh Garavan of the University of Vermont in New England shared: “The differences in these networks seem to precede drug use.”

The study, which involved studying magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of almost 2,000 14 year olds, associated experimentation with alcohol, cigarettes, and illegal drugs in early adolescence with reduced activity in a network involving an area called the orbitofrontal cortex, which is involved in decision-making.

Dr. Robert Whelman, co-author of the study, shared that “these networks are not working as well for some kids as for others,” making them more impulsive. He shared further: “This study was orders of magnitude bigger, which lets us overcome much of the randomness and noise – and find the brain regions that actually vary together.”

According to Prof. Garavan, a 14-year-old with a less functional impulse-generating network will be more likely to give in when given an opportunity to smoke or drink, while the one who does not will more likely turn it down.

Prof. Edythe London of the University of California – Los Angeles, an addiction expert who was not part of the study, described the research as “outstanding.” She said further that the research effort “substantially advances our understanding of the neural circuitry that governs inhibitory control in the adolescent brain.”

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