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Brain Activity May Predict Who Is at Risk of Addiction

As recreational use of marijuana and ADHD drugs like Adderall continues to rise among teenagers and young adults, researchers are homing in on factors that may put some young adults at increased risk of addiction.

Melanie Blair, doctoral candidate in psychology at The Graduate Center, CUNY, and Professor Jennifer Stewart (Queens College, and The Graduate Center, CUNY) have identified brain activity in recreational drug users who go on to develop a drug use disorder that differs from those who don’t.

The researchers recruited college-aged students who occasionally used stimulants, such as cocaine and the prescription amphetamines Adderall and Ritalin for recreational purposes (not to treat ADHD). During functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the students were given tasks requiring them to make risky or safe decisions. The researchers met with the subjects three years later to assess whether they had developed a drug use disorder during that time.

The study found that those students who went on to develop a drug use disorder had made riskier choices during the tasks compared to those who didn’t develop a disorder. These students also showed less activity in the prefrontal cortex region of the brain and other decision-making areas during the activity. “That reduced activation in frontal regions suggests their brains are less engaged in the process of making adaptive decisions based on their experiences,” says Blair.

The research suggests that certain people may have a predisposition to developing drug abuse. “The ultimate goal of this research is to identify signs that could detect which individuals are at risk, based on brain activity and behavior patterns, and then better target those groups with prevention interventions,” says Blair.

Beyond SUM

Explore This Work
Blunted Frontostriatal Blood Oxygen Level–Dependent Signals Predict Stimulant and Marijuana Use
Science Direct, 2018

Work By
Melanie Blair (Ph.D. candidate, Psychology)
Jennifer Stewart (Professor, Psychology) | Profile 1

Colleges & Schools
Queens College
The Graduate Center

Related Terms