Neuroeconomics and adolescent substance abuse: individual differences in neural networks and delay discounting

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2013 Jul;52(7):747-755.e6. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2013.04.013. Epub 2013 Jun 5.


Objective: Many adolescents with substance use problems show poor response to evidence-based treatments. Treatment outcome has been associated with individual differences in impulsive decision making as reflected by delay discounting (DD) rates (preference for immediate rewards). Adolescents with higher rates of DD were expected to show greater neural activation in brain regions mediating impulsive/habitual behavioral choices and less activation in regions mediating reflective/executive behavioral choices.

Method: Thirty adolescents being treated for substance abuse completed a DD task optimized to balance choices of immediate versus delayed rewards, and a control condition accounted for activation during magnitude valuation. A group independent component analysis on functional magnetic resonance imaging time courses identified neural networks engaged during DD. Network activity was correlated with individual differences in discounting rate.

Results: Higher discounting rates were associated with diminished engagement of an executive attention control network involving the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, inferior parietal cortex, cingulate cortex, and precuneus. Higher discounting rates also were associated with less deactivation in a "bottom-up" reward valuation network involving the amygdala, hippocampus, insula, and ventromedial prefrontal cortex. These 2 networks were significantly negatively correlated.

Conclusions: Results support relations between competing executive and reward valuation neural networks and temporal decision making, an important, potentially modifiable risk factor relevant for the prevention and treatment of adolescent substance abuse. Clinical trial registration information-The Neuroeconomics of Behavioral Therapies for Adolescent Substance Abuse,, NCT01093898.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Child
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology*
  • Reward*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Time Factors

Associated data