Nav: Home

Adolescents with weak working memory and progressive drug use at risk for later addictions

February 16, 2017

EUGENE, Ore. -- Feb. 16, 2017 -- Drug use in adolescence is often linked to later substance-abuse problems, but a new study suggests that a key risk factor is a combination of weak working memory and difficulties with impulse control.

These risk factors predispose to progressive drug use in younger years and subsequent dependence, report researchers at three institutions in a paper placed online Feb. 16 by the journal Addiction. The study focused on alcohol, marijuana and tobacco use, the most commonly used drugs by adolescents.

For young people with difficulties in impulse control, intervention programs that focus on simply stopping early drug use don't go far enough, said lead author Atika Khurana, assistant professor in the Department of Counseling Psychology and Human Services at the University of Oregon.

"We found that there is some effect that was carried through the early progression in drug use. It is a risk factor," said Khurana, who also is a research scientist in the UO's Prevention Science Institute. "But we also found that the underlying weakness in working memory and impulse control continues to pose a risk for later substance use disorders."

Working memory refers to the ability to concentrate on a task without being easily distracted. Youth with weak working memory tend to have problems controlling their impulses and thus appear to be at greater risk of continuing drug use.

The findings emerged from a final assessment of 387 young people, ages 18-20, who were recruited as 10- to 12-year-olds in 2004 for a long-term study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania in collaboration with the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

In a paper published in 2015 in the journal Development and Psychopathology, Khurana's team documented how adolescents with stronger working memory were better equipped to escape progression into heavy use following initial experimentation.

"Unanswered in our earlier work was whether it was specific forms of early use that predict later substance abuse," said Khurana, who was a postdoctoral fellow at the Annenberg Public Policy Center when the long-term study began. "People really hadn't focused on the heterogeneity of drug-use patterns. Some youth can start early and experiment but not progress while others experiment and progress into heavier drug use."

Analyzing multiple waves of data from early to late adolescence, the researchers found that experimenting with drugs at an early age wasn't a key factor in predicting later substance use disorders. It was the progression in drug use along with weakness in working memory and impulse control difficulties that predicted substance use disorders at later ages.

The researchers also reported that underlying weaknesses in working memory and impulse control continue to pose a risk for later substance use disorders, apart from early drug use progression.

"Substance use disorders are a major public health concern in this country," Khurana said. "The onset of substance use happens during adolescence. There is a lot of research that links early onset of use to later substance use disorders. Our study advances the field by showing that just addressing early use is not going to solve the problem."

"Drug prevention strategy in the schools typically focuses on middle school when early drug use tends to take place and assumes that any drug use at all is a problem," said co-author Dan Romer, research director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center. "This study suggests that prevention needs to be more nuanced. The risk depends on whether drug use is likely to progress."

Interventions that strengthen working memory and cognitive processing related to inhibiting impulsive responses need to be developed to help adolescents better navigate drug-related temptations, Khurana said.
-end-
Co-authors with Khurana and Romer were Laura M. Betancourt and Hallam Hurt of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

The National Institutes of Health supported the research through two grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Source: Atika Khurana, assistant professor, Department of Counseling Psychology and Human Services, 541-346-5540, atika@uoregon.edu

Note: The UO is equipped with an on-campus television studio with a point-of-origin Vyvx connection, which provides broadcast-quality video to networks worldwide via fiber optic network. There also is video access to satellite uplink and audio access to an ISDN codec for broadcast-quality radio interviews.

Links:

Khurana faculty page: https://education.uoregon.edu/users/atika-khurana

About Romer: http://www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/people/dan-romer/

UO Department of Counseling Psychology and Human Services: https://education.uoregon.edu/department/counseling-psychology-and-human-services

UO Prevention Science Institute: http://psi.uoregon.edu/

Annenberg Public Policy Center: http://www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org

Related previous research:

Strong working memory puts brakes on problematic drug use: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-10/uoo-swm100214.php

Stronger working memory and reduced sexual risk-taking in adolescents https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-06/sfri-swm061015.php

Research links working memory, adolescent risk-taking: http://around.uoregon.edu/content/research-links-working-memory-adolescent-risk-taking

University of Oregon

Related Substance Abuse Articles:

Young adult substance abuse down 41 percent among PROSPER program participants
Children who participated in the PROSPER (PROmoting School-community-university Partnerships to Enhance Resilience) program over seven years ago showed lower rates of substance abuse after high school graduation, according to a new study conducted by researchers from Pennsylvania State and Iowa State Universities and published in a recent issue of Psychological Medicine.
Solving the hepatitis C epidemic among people with substance abuse disorders
One of the most dramatic medical success stories in recent years has been the introduction of new drugs that eradicate hepatitis C virus (HCV).
Volunteering might prevent substance abuse for female student-athletes
As substance abuse continues to be a health concern in colleges and universities across the US, a social scientist from the University of Missouri has found that female student-athletes who volunteer in their communities and engage in helping behaviors are less likely to partake in dangerous alcohol and marijuana use.
Component of marijuana may help treat anxiety and substance abuse disorders
Cannabidiol, a major component of cannabis or marijuana, appears to have effects on emotion and emotional memory, which could be helpful for treating anxiety-related and substance abuse disorders.
Aggression disorder linked to greater risk of substance abuse
People with intermittent explosive disorder (IED) -- a condition marked by frequent physical or verbal outbursts -- are at five times greater risk for abusing substances such as alcohol, tobacco and marijuana than those who don't display frequent aggressive behavior, according to a new study by researchers from the University of Chicago.
More Substance Abuse News and Substance Abuse Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#534 Bacteria are Coming for Your OJ
What makes breakfast, breakfast? Well, according to every movie and TV show we've ever seen, a big glass of orange juice is basically required. But our morning grapefruit might be in danger. Why? Citrus greening, a bacteria carried by a bug, has infected 90% of the citrus groves in Florida. It's coming for your OJ. We'll talk with University of Maryland plant virologist Anne Simon about ways to stop the citrus killer, and with science writer and journalist Maryn McKenna about why throwing antibiotics at the problem is probably not the solution. Related links: A Review of the Citrus Greening...