Adolescent brain development and the risk for alcohol and other drug problems

Neuropsychol Rev. 2010 Dec;20(4):398-413. doi: 10.1007/s11065-010-9146-6. Epub 2010 Oct 19.


Dynamic changes in neurochemistry, fiber architecture, and tissue composition occur in the adolescent brain. The course of these maturational processes is being charted with greater specificity, owing to advances in neuroimaging and indicate grey matter volume reductions and protracted development of white matter in regions known to support complex cognition and behavior. Though fronto-subcortical circuitry development is notable during adolescence, asynchronous maturation of prefrontal and limbic systems may render youth more vulnerable to risky behaviors such as substance use. Indeed, binge-pattern alcohol consumption and comorbid marijuana use are common among adolescents, and are associated with neural consequences. This review summarizes the unique characteristics of adolescent brain development, particularly aspects that predispose individuals to reward seeking and risky choices during this phase of life, and discusses the influence of substance use on neuromaturation. Together, findings in this arena underscore the importance of refined research and programming efforts in adolescent health and interventional needs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Adolescent Development / drug effects
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognition
  • Diagnostic Imaging
  • Humans
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Social Behavior
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / pathology
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / physiopathology
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / psychology