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December 01, 2009

Adolescents' heightened sensitivity to drug reward puts them at enhanced risk for progressing from drug experimentation to addiction and may also increase their challenges in recovery. In a recent experiment, researchers taught rats to associate a specific site with cocaine infusions. After dispensing of the drug was halted, adolescent rats continued to return to the site for 9 days; adult rats, in comparison, stopped frequenting the site after 5 days. The finding confirms that adolescents experience cocaine's rewarding effects more intensely and suggests that they develop cocaine-environment associations that are harder to break, say Drs. Heather Brenhouse and Susan Andersen of McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School, in Boston.

photo of group of teens talking

The adolescent animals in the experiment also renewed their predilection for the cocaine-associated site more readily than the adults when given a priming mini-dose of the drug. One potential implication, the researchers say, is that adolescent drug abusers may need longer treatment interventions than adults do to achieve stable recovery.

Behavioral Neuroscience 122(2):460-465, 2008. [Abstract]

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