Activity 2: Neurobiology of adolescence and vulnerability to substance use disorders

| 0
Topic Progress:


Substance use disorders are considered to be developmental diseases, with adolescence from ages 18–25 being the most vulnerable time. In part, this vulnerability is due to the high prevalence of adolescent use and experimentation with alcohol and drugs. For those working with substance use, adolescence is a time to be particularly concerned about, since the evidence shows that the earlier the onset of alcohol and drug use, the higher the risk of a subsequent substance use disorder; furthermore, the disorder is more complex and longer lasting. The adolescent brain increases vulnerability, since the twin effects of the “go” systems associated with motivation and pleasure are developing while the “stop” mechanisms responsible for putting on the brakes do not fully develop until well into the 20s (Childress, 2006). Dr. Volkow’s video and Chapter 4 of Substance Abuse in Canada: Youth in Focus (2007) are complementary in that they both consider how neurobiology increases adolescent vulnerability to substance use disorders.


  1. Prior to viewing and reading the material associated with this activity, think about your perspectives on adolescent substance use.
  2. If you haven’t viewed Dr. Volkow’s video yet, go to and have a look; or review it, this time focusing in particular on the vulnerability of adolescence.


  3. Read Chapter 4 of your textbook: “What Can Human Brain Imaging Tell Us About Vulnerability to Addiction and to Relapse?” by A. R. Childress.
  4. How does this knowledge affect any prevention programs on which you are working? Or how you perceive prevention in substance use work.