Nature Study Reveals Impulse Networks in Drug Use

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Modern ideas about how the brain governs behavior revolves around networks that recruit various brain regions. How regions interact determine the likelihood that one action will be taken rather than another. A report in the Journal Nature tells how these networks are involved in impulsive behaviors in teens – particularly how one set of features can lead to reckless behaviors like drug use.

We all understand that teens are more impulsive, and a link between an inability to suppress impulsive behaviors and criminality has long been taken for granted. What’s new here is the direct link to neurodevelopmental processes. Also addressed are the different, but related, networks involved so that one may be characterized by impulse while another may result in symptoms of attention deficit disorder. How these are related is discussed in the article.

The conclusion is that activation in one network is predictive of initiating drug use in early adolescence (the participants were 14 year-olds). These patterns were then traced back to genetic differences of neurotransmitters. They also show that there isn’t a straight line relationship back to genetics, but that there is a large environmental component as well. Both of these findings corroborate what is already known about drug abuse patterns.

Hinted here is that drug use into the adult years may be the result of a delay of maturity in impulse control.

As a side issue, the cohort, even at 14 years old, still had members with more than five uses of illicit drugs in their lifetime. At that age, one has to wonder how much the use is a result of brain differences and how much the use changed the brain. Illicit drug use at such an early age does more damage more quickly than does use in adulthood.

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