Some have argued that adolescent brains, flexible and full of growth potential, are more capable of dealing with the damage inflicted by drugs than adult brains. According to researchers gathering today at a press conference at Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting in San Diego, California, adolescent brains cope with this damage more poorly than adults. Interrupting a critical period of synaptic network building, the drugs seem to have far reaching effect on development and behavior.
Michela Marinelli from the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science says recent findings show that “addiction is a learning event.” Her own studies show that adolescent mice, the best learners, are much more likely to become addicted than adults and also more likely to relapse after kicking the habit.
Joshua Gulley from the University of Illinois presented results showing that mice taking amphetamines during their adolescence—a group which would account for some 12% of US high school students—have reduced neurofrontal cortex function and impaired memory, whereas adults who had taken them had no lasting effects.
Other reseach suggest that if teenage binge drinkers—which account for more than 51% of US 18-20 year olds are like their adolescent mice counterparts, they are likely to have disrupted stress response and become more susceptible to depression and anxiety.
The scientists argue that their studies on mice apply to the growing population of teenage druggies. The only study in the group on humans, by Staci Gruber at the Harvard Medical School, showed that those who begin to smoke marijuana at an average age of 14 were considerably poorer at executive tasks later in life than the population that begins smoking at age 17.
Whether mouse or human, those who started drug using drugs later escaped unaffected or mildly affected, but the researchers warn that this is not a license to dope up since the drugs would still have effects on other parameters not measured.