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Poor Impulse Control May be Pre-Wired in Some Teens

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Poor impulse control may be pre-wired in some teenagers, suggests a new study. Researchers have identified brain networks that are linked to impulse control and drug addiction, which may exist even before someone is exposed to alcohol or drugs.

Researchers at the University of Vermont performed a brain imaging study that included almost 1,900 14-year-olds, ABC News reports. They used a functional MRI, which permitted them to see how different parts of the brain work together. The teens were asked to perform repetitive tasks, and then were asked to stop mid-task, while the researchers measured their ability to do so. People who abuse drugs or alcohol tend to perform poorly on this test, the news report notes.

The study identified teens who had previously been exposed to alcohol, illicit drugs or nicotine, and could recognize specific brain patterns linked with early experimentation with these substances. Teens who had poor impulse control, but did not have a history of substance abuse, had similar brain images to those teens who already had used these substances.

Lead researcher Dr. Robert Whelan said the findings suggest it may be possible to identify teens at risk of substance abuse, before they start.

The study also included teens with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The researchers found the brain networks of teens with ADHD were different than the ones associated with early substance abuse. People with ADHD are at increased risk of substance abuse and alcoholism, according to ABC News.

The findings are published in Nature Neuroscience.

2 Responses to this article

  1. Ben House / May 1, 2012 at 12:01 am

    Impulse control and mood regulation problems are also reported based on MRI studies of children whose prenatal and first year plus environments were stressful and/or did not provide security. This seems related to high levels of cortisol in the developmental environment and its impact on protein binding during a critical window of development in the brain. See attachment disorders and emotional regulation.
    Key to my work in addiction recovery is recognizing how the brain is compromised and teaching a lifestyle that helps to improve function in areas where function is not well developed.

  2. kathryn page / April 30, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    I just sent a message to the PI asking whether prenatal alcohol exposure had been controlled for. My longer question would be: what would it take to go back and add this data point? Would they be willing? Those of us in the FASD field would bet our bottom dollar that the impulse control measure would divide nicely according to exposure.

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