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The Role of the Prefrontal Cortex in Adolescent Addiction

  • Date Submitted: 05/01/2012 09:20 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 38.7 
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Introduction
Major changes in occur in the brain during adolescents. One of the most important parts of the brain that is in development during this period is the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex has been called the CEO of the brain and is involved in governing attention, controlling impulsivity, decision making, and assignment of value to stimuli in the environment.   Adolescents may be more vulnerable to risky behaviors such as substance abuse during the period of prefrontal cortex development. Brain imaging of substance abusing adults show a decrease in activity in the prefrontal regions of the brain and this decrease has been attributed to long term substance abuse. The reasons why many adolescents become addicted to substances and suffer from the lasting damaging effects of addiction into adulthood may be caused by damage to the prefrontal cortex. This paper will briefly summarize what the prefrontal cortex does, how it develops and how it relates to addiction in both adolescents and adults.
Development and Functions of the Prefrontal Cortex
The prefrontal cortex is the part of the frontal lobes lying just behind the forehead. It includes the anterior cingulate cortex, the dorsal lateral cortex and the orbital prefrontal cortex. These brain regions are in intimate communication with nearly every other principal zone of the cortex and perform the function of general regulation of behavior (Luria A. 1973). Brain research illustrates that prefrontal development is not complete until near the age of 25. Development starts with an increased neural overgrowth in pre pubescence. During adolescence the brain begins to “prune” the neural growth by building and reinforcing neural pathways that are used most often and de-activating those that are not. MRI studies of the brain show that developmental processes tend to occur in the brain in a back to front pattern, explaining why the prefrontal cortex develops last. MRI research has also revealed that during...

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