Brain’s Executive Control Function Linked to Substance Abuse in Teens

A new government study done at the University of Pittsburgh found that teenagers who have deficits in the parts of the brain that control executive function are more likely to become addicted to drugs.

“Executive cognitive function is basically the control center for governing other cognitive processes,” said Rebecca Landes McNamee, author and assistant research professor of radiology and bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh. “For example, in school, ECF would be engaged in the planning and control process required in answering a question, formulating your response, raising your hand, waiting until you are called upon, and starting your answer. A person with low levels of ECF might blurt out the answer. Another example could be interacting with someone on the playground who upsets you. A person with good ECF will think through the actions and consequences of their behavior rather than responding rashly. A person with low levels of ECF may respond with violence.”

Researchers performed eye movement tests and MRIs of brain activity on 25 teenagers. Teens that had a high amount of neurobehavioral disinhibition were more likely to have a history of substance abuse.

This study appears in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

Treating Adolescent Substance Abuse – a Multi-layered Approach

By Mike Valuski M/A/CADAC

 The Academy at Swift River’s program is designed to address the complicated risks and challenges of teenage substance abuse. 80% of ASR students have some degree of substance abuse in their history. We find that a large number of students have used substances to self medicate. An ADD or anxious student may find that marijuana helps take of the “edge”. A depressed student may turn to stimulants. Students quickly find their usage increasing from social and experimental to significant abuse and often dependence.

 Adolescence poses unique challenges in treatment. They are hesitant at a young age and sometimes have only a limited history that’s makes it difficult to understand they can’t use responsibly. They are stuck in what we’d refer to as a “pre-contemplative” stage of change. They are in a state of denial about the need to take meaningful action. The termination of use also means that the symptoms they were self medicating have to be addressed. ADD, depression, bipolar and anxiety issues must be met with a solid treatment plan.

 At the Academy at Swift River we have found success `working with this difficult issue by approaching it from different angles. We approach substance abuse treatment through the tools of: assessment, individual counseling, group counseling, 12-Step Models, and Transitional Care Services. Assessment ensures from a students first days at Academy that we have clear profile of their substance usage. New students are administered the SASSI (Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory) a sensitive instrument that identifies a student’s underlying belief systems toward substance abuse. Based on this data we can customize a treatment program tailored specifically to their needs.

 In Individual therapy students form a unique bond with their therapist. An individualized treatment plan is then developed with the student and their family to address their specific needs. Here at ASR the progress of the student is based on the “Stages of Change” model, “pre-contemplation”, “contemplation”, “preparation”, into “action” and then maintenance. This journey takes place gently through a series of individual sessions, group therapy, and written assignments focused at developing insight and competency of the their change process. This cognitive-behavioral approach is a valuable tool for helping a skeptical and resistant teenager through these stages.

 Specialized Group Therapy offers valuable peer support and tools for Relapse Prevention. Students share their own life experiences and hard learned lessons with each other. The counselor serves as a coach and moderator and students support and learn from one another. The students participate in and develop an in depth Relapse Prevention plan. This plan defines the student’s individual process of relapse and teaches practical real world skills for managing high-risk potentials for relapse. We also have a “Life Skills’ class that provides an understanding of social situations and help students develop coping skill that are needed to be successful.

 The 12-Step Models of A.A. (Alcoholics Anonymous), and N.A. (Narcotics Anonymous), are also introduced to the students with on and off campus meetings. We have found that by offering different models of support to our students we increase the likelihood of finding one that “clicks.” The 12Step meetings are another great tool and include interaction with the local community.

 Transitional Care Services provides students and their families with supportive aftercare upon completion of Academy at Swift River. This essential transitional support is invaluable for students as they begin their new substance-free life and confront new stressors in their worlds. The Transitional Care Provider assists in locating local resources, 12 Step support groups, finding sober-dorms or housing, and connecting with therapist’s weather they go home or on to other programs, schools or colleges.

 Teenagers face many challenges in today’s world living a substance free, healthy life. We believe that there is no more basic and important goal to ensuring their long term success. Using the very best in personal and technology, and the dogged persistence of loving families, we will get there together.