Researchers Say Teen Drug Use Greatly Increases Addiction Risk Later In Life

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Researchers Say Teen Drug Use Greatly Increases Addiction Risk Later In Life

According to Harvard researchers, people who experiment with substances early in life may be at the highest risk for addiction as they grow older. This conclusion resulted from a review of data, including a 2001 study that found adolescent rodents became addicted to cocaine faster than their adult counterparts.

In addition, young adult rats also exhibited preferences for nicotine-associated environments after a single drug-environment pairing. Conversely, adult rats often did not exhibit preferences even after multiple pairings.

Chloe Jordan, Ph.D., researcher, Harvard Medical School’s McLean Hospital:

“We discuss evidence suggesting that people who start drug abuse really early are more likely to become addicted in life. We reviewed evidence and the best way to reduce the rate of addiction in our society is preventive measures.”

Jordan and another researcher, Susan Andersen, Ph.D., studied adolescents and the function of behaviors related to rewards and risks, in effort to determine how the adolescent brain becomes susceptible to drug use during the teenage years.

This developmental stage is characterized by increased aggression, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity. Past research has shown that drug use in teenagers may result in cognitive impairments. Thus, as they grow older, they continue to garner as much pleasure from drugs as they did when they first began using.

Because the adolescence stage lasts for just days rather years in animal models, rats were used to conduct experiments that would have take much longer using human participants. And much like humans, adolescent rats (when compared to adults) began self-administering cocaine faster and exhibited increased resistance to treatment.

Jordan had a message for parents who are dealing with teen drug use:

“Social support is one of the most important and successful ways of helping someone with substance use disorder. Talk to them, never give up, and don’t feel at fault.”

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology

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