Parental substance abuse and function of the motivation and behavioral inhibition systems in drug-naïve youth

Psychiatry Res. 2012 Feb 28;201(2):128-35. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2011.08.004. Epub 2012 Mar 3.


It is hypothesized that the development of substance abuse (SA) may be due to imbalance in functions of the motivation-reward and behavioral inhibition systems in the brain. This speaks to the search for biological risk factors for SA in drug-naïve children who also exhibit motivational and inhibitory control deficits; however, this type of research is currently lacking. The objective of this study was to establish a neurobiological basis for addiction vulnerability using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in drug-naïve youth with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). We hypothesized that children with ADHD alone would show higher activity in regions of the motivation-reward and behavioral inhibition systems than children with ADHD and a parental history of SA. Toward this goal we scanned 20 drug-naïve children with ADHD ages 8-13 while performing an event-related reward task. High (N=10) and low (N=10) risk subjects were identified, based on parental history of SA. The effects of anticipation, conflict, and reward were assessed with appropriate linear contrasts, and between-group differences were assessed using statistical parametric mapping. The two groups did not differ on behavioral measures of the task. The fMRI results show heightened activation in the brain motivational-reward system and reduced activation of the inhibitory control system in high-risk compared to low-risk children. These results suggest that a functional mismatch between these two systems may represent one possible biological underpinning of SA risk, which is conferred by a parental history of addiction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anticipation, Psychological
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / genetics
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / physiopathology*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / psychology*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Child
  • Child of Impaired Parents / psychology*
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted*
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Linear Models
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology
  • Oxygen / blood*
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual
  • Punishment
  • Reaction Time / genetics
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Reference Values
  • Reward*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / genetics
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*


  • Oxygen