Every adult has gone through adolescence, and studies have shown that if you ask people to look back on their lives they will disproportionately recall experiences they had between the ages of ten and twenty-five. (This phenomenon is called the “reminiscence bump.”) And yet, to adults, the adolescent mind is a mystery—a Brigadoon-like place that’s at once vivid and inaccessible. Why would anyone volunteer to down fifteen beers in a row? Under what circumstances could Edward Fortyhands, an activity that involves having two forty-ounce bottles of malt liquor affixed to your hands with duct tape, be construed as enjoyable? And what goes for drinking games also goes for hooking up with strangers, jumping from high places into shallow pools, and steering a car with your knees. At moments of extreme exasperation, parents may think that there’s something wrong with their teen-agers’ brains. Which, according to recent books on adolescence, there is.
Scientists are gaining new insights into the irrational brains of adolescents. Elizabeth Kolbert explores in this week’s issue.
Neuroscientist Dr. Frances Jensen joined us to share her research on why teenagers can be especially susceptible to addictions — including drugs, alcohol, smoking and digital devices:
On why teenagers are more prone to addiction
“Addiction is actually a form of learning. … What happens in addiction is there’s also repeated exposure, except it’s to a substance and it’s not in the part of the brain we use for learning — it’s in the reward-seeking area of your brain. … It’s happening in the same way that learning stimulates and enhances a synapse. Substances do the same thing. They build a reward circuit around that substance to a much stronger, harder, longer addiction.
Just like learning a fact is more efficient, sadly, addiction is more efficient in the adolescent brain. That is an important fact for an adolescent to know about themselves — that they can get addicted faster.
It also is a way to debunk the myth, by the way, that, "Oh, teens are resilient, they’ll be fine. He can just go off and drink or do this or that. They’ll bounce back.” Actually, it’s quite the contrary. The effects of substances are more permanent on the teen brain. They have more deleterious effects and can be more toxic to the teen than the adult.“
Addiction is actually a form of learning. … Just like learning a fact is more efficient, sadly, addiction is more efficient in the adolescent brain. That is an important fact for an adolescent to know about themselves — that they can get addicted faster.
Neuroscientist Frances Jensen tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross why teens are more prone to addiction. Jensen’s new book is The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults.
Meth Damages Adolescent Brains Far More than Those of Adults
Adolescents who chronically use methamphetamine suffer greater and more widespread alterations in their brain than adults who chronically abuse the drug–and damage is particularly evident in a part of the brain believed to control the “executive function,” researchers from the University of Utah and South Korea report.
In a study with chronic adolescent and adult meth abusers in South Korea, MRI brain scans showed decreased thickness in the gray matter of
younger users’ frontal cortex, the area of the brain believed to direct
people’s ability to organize, reason and remember things, known as the
executive function. A different type of MRI, diffusion tensor imaging
(DTI), indicated alterations to the adolescents’ white matter, meaning
possible damage to neurons–the cells that relay information via
electrical signals from one part of the brain to another. The gray and
white matter of chronic adult meth users showed far less damage than
that of the adolescents.
The researchers found the evidence of damage to cortical thickness in the frontal cortex of adolescent users alarming.
“It’s particularly unfortunate that meth appears to damage that part of the brain, which is still developing in young people and is critical
for cognitive ability,” says In Kyoon Lyoo, M.D., Ph.D., of Ewha W.
University in Seoul, South Korea. “Damage to that part of the brain is
especially problematic because adolescents’ ability to control risky
behavior is less mature than that of adults. The findings may help
explain the severe behavioral issues and relapses that are common in
adolescent drug addiction.”
Lyoo is first author on the study, published Feb. 10, 2015, in Molecular Psychiatry online. Perry F. Renshaw, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., University of Utah USTAR investigator and professor of psychiatry,
is the study’s senior author.The results also indicate that it might
take much less meth to cause greater damage in adolescent brains because
youths typically use smaller amounts of the drug than adults.
Meth is the one of the most widely abused drugs in Asia, but it’s
also a problem in the United States, with the Western region of the
country experiencing the highest rates of use. Studies with rodents have
shown that meth damages the brains of adult rats more than young ones,
but whether that holds true in people has been cause for debate.
In one of the largest studies of its type, Lyoo, Renshaw and their
colleagues scanned the brains of 111 South Korean adolescents and 114
adults. Among the younger people, 51 used meth while 60 did not. The
adults included 54 meth users and 60 non-users.
“There is a critical period of brain development for specific
functions, and it appears that adolescents who abuse methamphetamine are
at great risk for derailing that process,” Renshaw says. “I think the
results show it is hugely important to keep kids off drugs.”
Hey y'all. I know I haven’t talked about my epilepsy, and I don’t feel the need to share my disability to be valid, but I thought hey.
Anyway. I’ve had epilepsy for 6 years (since I was 14), and I’ve gone through many different stages with it. From adolescence until adulthood, my brain chemistry has changed, and therefore my epilepsy has changed.
When I was 14 I missed half of my freshman year of high school because I was struggling with my epilepsy. We got it under control, but I was almost held back a year and had to switch schools because they were treating me like a pariah, refusing to let me back into my classes.
Two years later I was 16 and my hormones were changing (again). It got bad again, but it only took a month and added medication to get it under control.
Then I was 18 and going off to Uni, and aha! Bad again! I was so depressed because I thought I had it under control that instead of really fixing it I got into alcohol and recreational drugs and skipped half of my classes. This was actually when I met Dorian and got into the Les Mis fandom. Two things that did me a world of good.
But alas, even this couldn’t stop me from dropping out and moving back in with my parents. Fast forward a year, to March of 2016.
I’ve moved in with Dorian, and preparing for our wedding in June. And this dick ass epilepsy decides to barge its way into my life again. My anxiety was getting bad, and therefore my seizures were getting bad. I lost my job in May because I had a seizure in the street and broke my arm. This was the second time I’ve had a seizure in the street, but I didn’t smash open my face to the point of five stitches, as well as a broken arm the first time.
July of 2016 was especially hard. I’ve started having seizures every other day at least, and at least one absence seizure (which are kind of like a mini seizure, with spacing out and muscle jerks. Usually followed by me collapsing). As it turns out, a few weeks ago, I had a seizure at the top of the stairs and fell down said stairs, breaking my t11 vertebrae. I’m currently in a back brace that makes it hard to breathe, eat, and move. I’ve lost weight because I can’t eat normally.
It was then that I decided I need to get a seizure response dog. Dorian was just about to leave for work when I fell down the stairs; what if he had, and I was alone? I don’t even want to think about that. My seizure response dog will make sure I don’t get up after seizures, and roll me over, and clear my airways so I don’t choke or suffocate because I vomited or bit my cheeks so hard my mouth is filled with blood. He’ll also be taught to alert someone so they can come help.
And yet I’m being told epilepsy isn’t a proper disability. It’s not visible, therefore it’s not serious. Well I hate to burst your bubble, but I was nearly paralysed because of this “not serious” disability. It’s stopped me from working and I’ve broken multiple bones.
So come at me with your bullshit ableism and I’ll fucking fight you.
no offense but i don’t care how mature or immature you think you are, no 18 year old should want to date a 16 year old. an adolescent’s brain is developing crazy fast and 2 years becomes a pretty big difference.
Why do teenagers seem so much more impulsive, so much less self-aware than grown-ups? Cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore compares the prefrontal cortex in adolescents to that of adults, to show us how typically “teenage” behavior is caused by the growing and developing brain.
Sarah-Jayne Blakemore studies the social brain – the network of brain regions involved in understanding other people – and how it develops in adolescents.