Why is the adolescent brain vulnerable to addiction?

Psychiatric Newspaper | Choi Kang-rok, Department of Psychiatry Specialist

“I told you to stop!”

“I’ll watch it for just 30 minutes, no, 10 more minutes.”

It is not uncommon to see parents with children or teenagers arguing with their children over games or mobile phone use. It has become a familiar sight in our daily lives, but many parents say they sigh when they see their children engrossed in games or mobile phones, leaving things to do or neglecting their studies.

During childhood, there are many cases of using games or mobile phones at certain times under the promise of parents, but entering adolescence and adolescence, there are behavioral characteristics that try to escape from parental control or do things according to your own will. difficult to control.

But it is not just because teenagers are impulsive or their rationality is less developed that they are more susceptible to excessive use of mobile phones or addictions such as gambling, drugs and alcohol. Many studies and experiments show that this is because the adolescent brain is affected by hormones and neurotransmitters associated with structures that are more susceptible to addiction than the adult brain.

Also, most teenagers seek more stimuli than adults, which makes them more prone to reward. As they enter puberty, their brain activates the nervous system that regulates arousal and reward. In addition, the teenage brain is immature compared to adults when it comes to recognizing and managing potentially dangerous situations because the frontal lobe is not yet tightly connected to other brain regions.

Photo_ freepik

Studies have shown that the important variable in predicting young people’s behavior is not their perception of the risks associated with their actions, but rather their expectations of the rewards associated with their actions. This explains why teenagers who are overly immersed in games or mobile phone use are currently repeating addictive behaviors that provide immediate pleasure or gratification rather than parenting or cons. for not doing what they are supposed to do.

In simple words, it can be said that the pleasure center of the adolescent brain, that is, the nucleus accumbens of the septum, is more vulnerable to addiction than the adult brain. There are many studies that support this fact well. If you look at the results of studies conducted with mice, it is said that dopamine neurons associated with addiction are more active and more responsive in adolescent rats than in adults.

As in humans, the adolescent brain generally has a very high firing rate of neurons, so when desired stimuli occur, the brain’s synapses are strongly activated and respond in a way that strengthens the connections between them, releasing more dopamine that will do it. For this reason, teenagers are more at risk than adults of succumbing to the temptations of addiction, who are more stimulation seeking and crave pleasure and reward.

Another study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh explains why it is so difficult for young people to exercise self-control in situations where certain behaviors are prohibited. Researchers conducted an experiment to test the ability to stop eye movement in more than 200 participants, ranging in age from 8 to 30 years. After participants stared at a light on a screen in a dark room, they were instructed not to look at the flashing light the next time it appeared.

Surprisingly, the experimental results showed that adolescents did not differ significantly from adults in the degree to which they inhibited their responses. However, new findings from brain scans of young people and adults revealed that adolescents needed much more effort than adults to inhibit their responses to similar levels. In other words, although adults are better able to resist temptation because they activate their frontal lobes while using much less brain area, they found that adolescents need much stronger willpower and more patience.

As such, the adolescent brain seeks more stimulation and reward than the adult brain, but has a lower perception of risk and more difficulties with response inhibition, so it can be more vulnerable to various addictions. After having poisoned, it is much more difficult to get out.

Photo_ freepik
Photo_ freepik

So, if your current teenager does not show an addiction to certain activities such as a game or using a mobile phone in everyday life, or if he keeps the time promised by himself or with his parents, doing his best to resist the temptation of addiction. and achieves self-control, it can be

Even if your child repeatedly breaks promises or spends more time playing games than expected, it is forbidden to respond with criticism, reprimands, or pitiful responses such as “If you do,” or “What do you you want to be when you grow up?” Parental responses like this only increase distance from each other and do not lead to positive behavior change. Instead, they only result in fueling the rebellious psychology of children. puberty or the lowering of their self-esteem it causes.

Therefore, if it is not too much use, it is good to find an appropriate point of reference and compromise with your child and give them attention and encouragement to keep the time promise. And if your child does well as promised, don’t forget to recognise, praise and reward them for putting in more effort than you might take for granted.

However, if the addictive behavior is excessive, how will spending so much time engaging in the addictive behavior lead to the child’s future, how valuable and possible is adolescence, and how to spend this time? I hope you will have time to think seriously and talk to your child about whether you can fill it in in a beneficial and helpful way for your child.

Nevertheless, if the promise with parents is not kept at all, and if you are in a state of excessive dependence where you show no will to improve yourself, it may be a situation that requires treatment, so seek help from a specialist.

However, unless you are in a state of severe addiction, this is not the right way to nag and over-manage everything, or to be careless and indifferent, saying, “Live as you wish.” Instead, if you set appropriate standards and limits and provide constant attention and encouragement, it can be a great opportunity for your teen to develop patience and discipline.

Although the body has grown a lot and its appearance is similar to that of an adult, the children may still be thirsty for praise and recognition, attention and encouragement from their parents. In the future, I hope that more teenagers will become addicted to the gaze and warm words of their parents rather than substances or various actions.

Sadangsup Mental Health Clinic | Director Choi Kang-rok


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