Brain And Behavior Major Paper

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Running Head: Substance Abuse, Adolescence and the Brain 1

Robin Collins
Substance Abuse, Adolescence and the Brain
The University of Texas at Arlington

Running Head: Substance Abuse, Adolescence and the Brain 2

Introduction “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs.” Those words were used in an anti-drug campaign which exhibited an egg being fried in a skillet. The message was mostly for young people to warn them of the effects of illicit drugs on the brain. This was a fairly accurate demonstration of the harmful effects that drugs, including alcohol, nicotine and cocaine can have on a developing brain. Adolescence is a time of important brain development, specifically with regard to the prefrontal cortex. It is during this period of human development that most teenagers’ thinking progresses from concrete operational thinking to formal operational thinking. What this means is that a teens thinking moves from simply the here and now to having the ability to thinking abstractly and plan for the future (McAnarney, 2008). Neural growth, change and maturation of the executive functions, (decision-making, self- monitoring, impulse control and delay of gratification) are at the highest in adolescence and may not be completely developed until early adulthood. Prefrontal cortex maturation and limbic system interconnectivity, which regulates memory, motivational learning and emotion are taking place in the adolescent brain. In addition, connections between the basal ganglia and cerebellum are forming which is essential for the development of higher cognitive functioning (Schepis,
The irony is that during adolescence while the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for judgment and caution in risk-taking behavior is under construction, the adolescents are vulnerable to poor decision making including using and abusing substances. The use and abuse of substances negatively effects and can inhibit proper brain development. A study titled, “Monitoring the Future,” sampled 46,000 8th-12th graders and suggested that approximately 70% of adolescents have tried alcohol by the time they reach the end of the 12th grade and 33% have been intoxicated in the last month. About 40% have tried cigarettes and
20% of kids in the 12th grade are regular cigarette smokers. 1% of teens admit to using cocaine
Running Head: Substance Abuse, Adolescence and the Brain 3

and 3% of teens admit to using amphetamines (Gulley, 2013). With the above staggering statistics, it is not surprising that substance abuse and addiction among adolescence is a subject of great concern. One of the challenges facing authorities and researchers on this topic is the definition of addiction itself. Various theories and opinions regarding addiction and substance abuse make achieving one certain definition extremely difficult. Defining Addiction In an article by Aviel Goodman, he identifies 10 qualities that people who suffer from substance abuse, bulimia, gambling addiction or sexual addiction appear to share. These include:
1)Their addiction usually begins in adolescence or young adulthood, 2) the behavior continues despite negative consequences, 3) They share a sense of craving, loss of control and a preoccupation, 4) the aforementioned issues progressively get worse, 5) increased tolerance, 6) physiological or psychological withdrawal, 7) tendency to relapse, 8) switching to a different addiction when one appears to be under control, 9) neglect of other areas of life and 10) low self- esteem, denial, rationalization and self-centeredness (Goodman, 2008). Typically, an addiction is not something that happens overnight. Engagement in a potentially addictive activity is usually initially pursued