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02-20 Adolescents with cognitive difficulties at risk for addiction

Adolescents with cognitive difficulties at risk for addiction

Working memory is the ability to concentrate on a task without simple distractions. Individuals with poor working memories often have trouble with impulse control. Researchers at the University of Oregon recently discovered that a combination of poor working memory and lack of impulse control in adolescents can put them at the risk for developing addictions later in life.

Longitudinal study

The findings were based on a long-term study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Over 300 individuals, now 18 to 20, were enrolled for the study when they were ages 10 to 12.

The study, published in the Addiction in February 2017, found that experimenting with drugs at an early age was not a sure harbinger for future abuse. The risk of a substance abuse problem was greater when the same adolescents with poor working memory and impulse control experimented with substances. For these individuals, the risk of developing later drug dependency increased significantly.

While speaking of impulse control, lead author of the study Atika Khurana, a professor in the Department of Counseling Psychology and Human Services at Oregon, said, “We found that there is some effect that was carried through the early progression in drug use. It is a risk factor.”

The role of cognitive remediation

Khurana said early drug prevention in schools wasn’t always enough. “Drug prevention strategy in the schools typically focuses on middle school when early drug use tends to take place and assumes that any drug use at all is a problem,” said Khurana. “This study suggests that prevention needs to be more nuanced. The risk depends on whether drug use is likely to progress.”

Sovereign Health addiction treatment program includes cognitive remediation, which addresses the underlying cognitive deficits that often underlie substance abuse and mental health disorders. Loss of impulse control, memory, problem-solving and other issues can all influence behavior and decision-making. At our Rancho San Diego adolescent treatment facility, we specialize in right-sizing problems so they are manageable and treatable. Contact our helpline to find out more about our services and programs.

About the author

Darren Fraser is a content writer for Sovereign Health. He worked two and half years as reporter and researcher for The Yomiuri Shimbun until they realized he did not read, speak or write Japanese and fired him. Undeterred, he channels his love of research into unearthing stories that provide hope to those dealing with addiction and mental illness. Darren loves the Montreal Canadiens hockey club, Fichte and horror films and would prefer to enjoy these from the comforts of his family’s farm in Quebec. For more information about this media, contact the author at

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