Why teenagers start smoking?
Researchers have discovered a number of previously unknown networks in the brain, which go a long way towards explaining why some teenagers are more vulnerable to start trying out drugs and alcohol —while others don\'t.
Researchers have discovered a number of previously unknown networks in the brain, which go a long way towards explaining why some teenagers are more vulnerable to start trying out drugs and alcohol —while others don't.
The largest imaging study of the human brain ever conducted involved 1,896 14-year-olds.
Robert Whelan and Hugh Garavan of the University of Vermont, along with a large group of international colleagues, report that differences in these networks provide strong evidence that some teenagers are at higher risk for drug and alcohol experimentation—simply because their brains work differently, making them more impulsive.
This discovery helps answer a long-standing chicken-or-egg question about whether certain brain patterns come before drug use—or are caused by it.
"The differences in these networks seem to precede drug use," said Garavan, Whelan's colleague in UVM's psychiatry department, who also served as the principal investigator of the Irish component of a large European research project, called IMAGEN, that gathered the data about the teens in the new study.
In a key finding, diminished activity in a network involving the "orbitofrontal cortex" is associated with experimentation with alcohol, cigarettes and illegal drugs in early adolescence.
"These networks are not working as well for some kids as for others," said Whelan, making them more impulsive.
Faced with a choice about smoking or drinking, the 14-year-old with a less functional impulse-regulating network will be more likely to say, "yeah, gimme, gimme, gimme!" said Garavan, "and this other kid is saying, 'no, I'm not going to do that.'"
Testing for lower function in this and other brain networks could, perhaps, be used by researchers someday as "a risk factor or biomarker for potential drug use," Garavan said.
The researchers were also able to show that other newly discovered networks are connected with the symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. These ADHD networks are distinct from those associated with early drug use.
In recent years, there has been controversy and extensive media attention about the possible connection between ADHD and drug abuse. Both ADHD and early drug use are associated with poor inhibitory control—they're problems that plague impulsive people.
21 Sep 2019 5:28 PM GMT