Teens with strong attention skills more likely to avoid substance abuse issues

Posted on October 4, 2014

New research suggests teens with strong executive attention skills – the ability to focus on task and ignore distractions – are more likely to avoid substance abuse issues after early drug experimentation.

In the research, investigators analyzed findings from a long-term study of 382 adolescents in a mostly at-risk urban population. The results provide a rare, early view of adolescents’ entry into the use of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana.

Researchers discovered that early drug experimentation is more likely to lead into progressive drug use among young people who don't have a strong working memory ability to keep impulsive tendencies in check.

Prefrontal regions of the brain can apply the brakes or exert top-down control over impulsive, or reward-seeking urges. By its nature, greater executive attention enables one to be less impulsive in one’s decisions and actions because you are focused and able to control impulses generated by events around you.

The researchers found that if teens are performing poorly on working memory tasks that tap into executive attention, they are more likely to engage in impulsive drug-use behaviors.

A family environment strong in structured routines and cognitive stimulation could strengthen working memory skills, suggests the researchers. As for older children, interventions could be built around activities that encourage social competence and problem-solving skills in combination with cognition-building efforts to increase self-control and working memory.

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Source material from Psych Central