Brain Development Makes Teens Vulnerable to Addiction

A review of 140 studies concluded that teens may be more prone to alcohol, tobacco, and other drug addiction because of the changes their brains go through during adolescent development, the Wall Street Journal reported June 19, 2003.

Led by R. Andrew Chambers, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale University, the research team evaluated previous studies pertaining to addiction, adolescence, and brain structure in humans and animals.

The researchers found that the ability of the adolescent brain to change in response to various experiences could also make teens more vulnerable to addiction than adults.

"During adolescence, motivational systems in the brain go through changes," said Chambers. "Instead of playing with a toy car, they go out and drive a car."

Chambers said these novel experiences serve as "motivational repertoires," or skills and interests that help teens in their transition to adulthood and remain with them throughout life.

However, as the teen brain seeks rewarding activities, addictive substances could obstruct other activities. "When you're addicted," Chambers said, "all your motivation gets funneled into seeking or taking the drug."

Chambers said the study's findings could lead to new treatments and prevention approaches.

The study's findings are published in the June 2003 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry