Objective: Epidemiological studies indicate that experimentation with addictive drugs and onset of addictive disorders is primarily concentrated in adolescence and young adulthood. The authors describe basic and clinical data supporting adolescent neurodevelopment as a biologically critical period of greater vulnerability for experimentation with substances and acquisition of substance use disorders.
Method: The authors reviewed recent literature regarding neurocircuitry underlying motivation, impulsivity, and addiction, with a focus on studies investigating adolescent neurodevelopment.
Results: Adolescent neurodevelopment occurs in brain regions associated with motivation, impulsivity, and addiction. Adolescent impulsivity and/or novelty seeking as a transitional trait behavior can be explained in part by maturational changes in frontal cortical and subcortical monoaminergic systems. These developmental processes may advantageously promote learning drives for adaptation to adult roles but may also confer greater vulnerability to the addictive actions of drugs.
Conclusions: An exploration of developmental changes in neurocircuitry involved in impulse control has significant implications for understanding adolescent behavior, addiction vulnerability, and the prevention of addiction in adolescence and adulthood.