Although many neuroimaging studies have examined changes in brain function in adults with substance use disorders, far fewer have examined adolescents. This study investigated patterns of brain activation in adolescents with severe substance and conduct problems (SCP) compared to controls.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at 1.5 Tesla assessed brain activation in 12 adolescent males with SCP, ranging in age from 14 to 18, and 12 controls similar in age, gender, and neighborhood while performing the attentionally-demanding Stroop task.
Even though the adolescents with SCP performed as well as the controls, they activated a more extensive set of brain structures for incongruent (e.g., “red” in blue ink) versus congruent (e.g. “red” in red ink) trials. These regions included parahippocampal regions bilaterally, posterior regions involved in language-related processing, right-sided medial prefrontal areas, and subcortical regions including the the thalamus and caudate.
These preliminary results suggest that the neural mechanisms of attentional control in youth with SCP differ from youth without such problems. This difficulty may prevent SCP youth from ignoring salient but distracting information in the environment, such as drug-related information.