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Teens More Easily Addicted to Drugs - Say Harvard Researchers

Teens More Easily Addicted to Drugs - Say Harvard Researchers
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Harvard researchers used animal model studies to learn more about how teens get addicted to drugs.

Epidemiological studies and anecdotal evidence have long suggested that teens get addicted to drugs far more easily than do adults. Researchers at Harvard Medical School are helping to explain why this is so.

Using animal model experiments, Harvard researchers show that "teen" rats show a much stronger place preference, or learned memory, for a place where they were given drugs, than do "adult" rats. Teens associate environmental stimuli with the pleasure of drugs more strongly than adults.

What the researchers did, for groups of adult and adolescent rats, was paint two separated sides of a cage in different colors. They gave the rats either 10mg or 20 mg of cocaine and let them enjoy the high of cocaine in one side, and then moved them to the other colored and separated side during periods of non intoxication and withdrawal.

After a few days of this – the rats were given access to both sides of the cage (the barrier was removed) and the researchers examined how long it took the rats to stop preferring the colored side associated with drug taking.

Teen rats took 75% longer to extinguish their place preference. Teens stayed in the drug taking side of the cage for far longer than did adult rats.

What this tells us is that teens are more vulnerable to drug cues in the environment. The researchers explain, "Adolescent vulnerability to addiction involves robust memories for drug-associated cues that are difficult to extinguish." Teens are more prone to develop strong associations between drug taking and people, places or situations in their environment, and thus more prone to relapse.

The team suggests that the evidence suggests that to be effective, teen drug treatment needs to be longer and more intensive than adult drug treatment, and that teens may respond well to reconditioning with rewards associated with positive behaviors.

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