Thursday, November 08, 2007

Teens, Brains, and Addictions

Science Daily has a long article up on how teen brains differ from adults’ in a variety of ways leading to depression or impulsiveness, including the specific dangers of addiction in those years. Here are a few key portions of that section of the article, but the whole thing is fascinating and summative for those of you wanting a concise presentation on the subject.

Scientists also are researching how the developing brain responds differently to drugs of abuse such as stimulants and examining the periods during which adolescents are most vulnerable to addiction. Research shows that the teenage brain may be particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of drugs, including increased susceptibility to addiction later in life and emotional and behavioral difficulties, which could persist and become a lifelong disability.
In other research, scientists have found that adolescents maintain drug-related associations longer than adults, leading to a greater likelihood of relapse. Once adolescent animals learn to prefer environments previously paired with cocaine, they require 75 percent more time to lose these preferences compared with adults. These data suggest that during adolescence, drug exposure will lead to addiction that will be more difficult to treat by abstinence, says Heather Brenhouse, PhD, and her colleague S. L. Anderson, PhD, of Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass.

Adolescents also will resume drug-seeking behavior more strongly than adults when exposed to a small reminder dose of cocaine. Based on the adolescent's greater propensity to form strong associations with rewarding stimuli, Brenhouse says, "extended treatment that involves substitution for different rewards, such as exercise or music, may be a more appropriate approach than adult-based rehabilitation of abstinence."
In other research, a new study shows an increase in the prevalence of frequent cannabis use among youngsters accompanied by a decrease in age of first use. Use starts at a younger age and more potent forms of the drug are now available, says Gerry Jager, PhD, of the Rudolf Magnus Institute of Neuroscience at the University Medical Center Utrecht, in the Netherlands.

Jager and her colleagues studied the consequences of frequent cannabis use during adolescence for memory, learning, and brain development, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

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