If we ask a drug addict when he started his addiction, probably answer that he did it during the adolescence.
That's right, this is the stage in our lives where we are most likely to become addicted to any substance, from the tobacco until illegal drugs. However, although I do know that there are some studies on the causes of addiction to nicotine In this period, research on other types of substances is very scarce.
For this reason, a group of scientists led by Mauro Cosa-Mattioli, has carried out two simultaneous studies that analyze the biological effects of nicotine and cocaine in the teenagers. The results have been published together in the magazine eLife and conclude that, as in many other cases, the answer lies in the brain.
Adolescence and drugs, always go hand in hand?
It has traditionally been thought that the causes of addiction propensity to drugs in adolescents were rather of psychological origin, due to the need for social approval that we usually feel at that age. In fact, if we look back, I'm sure we can all tell something stupid that we did just to get along with others.
However, at this stage the brain undergoes many changes and it will not be strange to think that the key to addictions reside in them.
The study that explains the relationship between adolescence and drugs
These scientists had in their sights the eIF2 protein, since its function is to regulate the production of proteins associated with the connections between neurons. It is known that adolescence is a period in which many of these connections are created, so that it was a good element to start investigating.
To verify this, they took a set of both adult and adolescent mice, which were injected or a saline solution or a very low dose of cocaine. Then they observed a decreased activity deeIF2 in adolescent animals administered the drug and, as a consequence, a change in regulation of the proteins that strengthen the connections between the storage neurons of dopamine, intimately associated with addictions. On the other hand, adults only registered these types of changes after the administration of very high doses of cocaine.
To be sure of the relevance of age in these effects, they changed the state of IF2, so that adults were in the biological situation of adolescents and vice versa. As expected, the results were totally contrary than in the previous experiment.
How can these results help humans?
These results, also reproduced when exchanging cocaine for nicotine, are supported by imaging studies conducted in human brains, so the causes seem to be very clear.
This would be a perfect target for creating treatments against drug addictions, both in adolescents and adults. Yes, without neglecting the psychological help. The brain will also appreciate it.
Va: Medical Daily