Monday, March 03, 2008

Studies Show What Common Sense Told Me Years Ago

Today's Hartford Courant has an interesting piece on the science of Spotting the Potential Addict.

Studying colored images of brain activity in youths, researchers have viewed differences in brain function between those at risk of addiction and their peers.

In addition to differences in how pleasure, or its anticipation, is processed in the brain's reward centers, the frontal cortex — the area of the brain that helps control impulses and governs rational behavior — is slow to develop in those at risk of addiction.

That area of the brain develops last in all teenagers — a subject that has received a good deal of attention over the past several years.

But in those prone to drug abuse, the ability to govern rational behavior is a particularly late bloomer. These adolescents tend to engage in all sorts of risky behavior, whether sexual adventures, gambling, driving fast — or substance abuse.

Basically, it's what I've been blogging about, on and off, for the past several years. It's not the drugs, it's the individual. When it comes to kids, some kids are more at-risk than others. What the article doesn't answer is whether these at-risk factors are a product of nature or nurture. I'm going to go out a limb and say a little from column A and a little from column B.

The article doesn't explore the corollary of what they seem to have stumbled upon- if science can identify at-risk teens, than science can also identify the more well-adjusted kids who are not at risk. I shudder at the totalitarian implications of such science, but the truth is that we're a long way away from living in a Minority Report world where we can prevent bad things before they happen. What's interesting to me is the implications for current laws and current policies. We're always warned how drugs are a menace and how are kids are in danger, but the truth seems to be that only certain kids are really in danger- and those are the same kids who'd be in danger via other risky behaviors, even if we could actually rid our communities of drugs.

As I've always argued, the science seems to indicate that certain at-risk kids need help and seemingly, they need help whether their using drugs or not. But for everyone else? Maybe the government and the anti-drug lobbies should stop scaring us.


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