Research shows that developing brains are more responsive to drug-related cues leading experts to conclude that teenagers are more prone to drug abuse than adults.
In a study conducted at the McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School’s largest psychiatric facility, researchers have found that younger brains are more prone to stick to drug-related stimuli. This particular reaction of the subconscious is also found to be translated to what are called real-world circumstances – the individual’s brain lives out in the conscious the drug-related cues that its subconscious was exposed to. The study was headed by psychologists Heather Brenhouse, PhD and Susan Andersen, PhD.
In this experiment, adolescent rats (38 days old – equivalent to 13 human years) and adults (77 days old – 20 human years) were given alternate doses of saline solution and cocaine for three days. The saline solution was injected each morning, after which they were placed in a side chamber. After four hours, the dose of cocaine was administered and then they were moved to the opposite chamber that is set in a different wall color and lighting conditions. The rats were to stay there for an hour.
After three days or the same procedure, the rats were given the freedom to move around the whole chamber completely drug-free. This ran for thirty minutes. The activity was conducted to identify the rats’ conditioned place preference – that particular part of the whole chamber that they preferred, which, understandably, was the place where they were given a dose of cocaine. The same activity was repeated every 24 hours until the rats finally grew out of going to their preferred place in the whole chamber. The results of the experiment showed that it took a lot more trials for the younger rats to do away with the preference than the adult ones.
The next part of the study looked into the possibility of relapse. Once all the rats managed to extinguish the familiarity for the cocaine chamber, the drug was injected again, albeit in smaller doses. In this test, the younger rats showed a stronger preference for the chamber than the adults. The researchers believed this to be a sign that the younger ones are capable of creating and retaining more vivid memories even when they are triggered by weaker stimulants. “Adolescent vulnerability to addiction involves robust memories for drug-associated cues that are difficult to extinguish,” the research says.
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Addiction can be an illness of isolation, but the antidote is community. At a time when so much of our lives is spent self-isolating and