Teenagers with strong working memory are better at resisting drug: study

teen drug abuse

People with strong working memory are better at escaping early drug experimentation without further getting into drug abuse issues, according to a study conducted by University of Oregon. People who have weak concentration and lacks focus are more likely to get into excessive drug abuse issues, study said.

An active working memory or executive attention keeps a person focused on the task and ignores distraction while processing relevant goal-oriented information,  says Atika Khurana, a professor in the Department of Counselling Psychology and Human Services.

“Not all forms of early drug use are problematic,” Khurana said. “There could be some individuals who start early, experiment and then stop. And there are some who could start early and go on into a progressive trajectory of continued drug use. We wanted to know what separates the two?”

Study was done over 368 adolescents, mostly from urban areas, who were experimenting with sedatives including alcohol, marijuana and tobacco. All the participants were asked to provide a self-report of drug use in the previous 30 days. To check the participants memory, four memory tests were conducted, a letter two-back test, in which subjects identify specific letters in time-sensitive sequences; Corsi block tapping, in which subjects viewed identical blocks that lit up randomly on a screen and tapped each box in reverse order of the lighting sequence; a spatial working-memory task where hidden tokens must be found quickly within sets of four to eight randomly positioned boxes on a computer screen; and a digit-span test where numbers shown are to be repeated in reverse order

After the tests researchers concluded that adolescents with weaker working memory executive attention can’t apply brakes on themselves and are more likely to fall in a negative spiral of drug abuse after substance experimentation. They suffer from low resistive power against any distraction and find difficulty in reaching their goal.

“Prefrontal regions of the brain can apply the brakes or exert top-down control over impulsive, or reward seeking urges,” Khurana said. “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. What we found is 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 behaviours.”

The new findings suggest that children as small as three are affected by weak executive functioning and self-control issues. An active, disciplined family environment, structured routines and cognitive stimulation could strengthen working memory skills. Older children can improve their self-control and working memory by solving concentration rich problems and doing activities that encourage social competence. This might increase resistance towards distraction and might also help them in evaluating consequences of decisions.

We need to protect these children and compensate for the weakness that exists within them by taking preventive measures before they fall in a negative spiral of drug abuse and become a drug addict.




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