March 01, 2017
1 min read

Weak working memory in adolescence predicts later addiction

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Weak working memory in adolescence significantly predicted substance use disorders later in life, according to recent findings.

“We found that there is some effect that was carried through the early progression in drug use. It is a risk factor,” Atika Khurana, PhD, of University of Oregon, said in a press release. “But we also found that the underlying weakness in working memory and impulse control continues to pose a risk for later substance use disorders.”

Atika Khurana
Atika Khurana

To determine if early weakness in working memory and associated imbalance indicators predicted substance use disorder in late adolescence, researchers analyzed five waves of longitudinal data for 387 adolescents aged 11 to 13 years at baseline. Working memory was assessed at baseline via four computerized tasks. Acting-without-thinking and delay discounting were determined via self-reports at baseline, while annual self-reports indicated early drug use patterns. Substance use disorder outcomes were also self-reported.

Weakness in working memory at baseline that was associated with neurobehavioral imbalance indicators of acting-without-thinking (P < .01) and delay discounting (P < .01) significantly predicted substance use disorder at final follow-up.

Working memory was a predictor of substance use disorder independent of early drug use (P < .01) and was mediated by early drug use progression (P < .01).

“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,” study researcher Daniel Romer, PhD, of University of Pennsylvania, said in the release. “This study suggests that prevention needs to be more nuanced. The risk depends on whether drug use is likely to progress.”– by Amanda Oldt

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.