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Experimentation versus progression in adolescent drug use: A test of an emerging neurobehavioral imbalance model

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 August 2014

Atika Khurana*
University of Oregon
Daniel Romer
University of Pennsylvania
Laura M. Betancourt
Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Nancy L. Brodsky
Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Joan M. Giannetta
Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Hallam Hurt
Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Atika Khurana, Department of Counseling Psychology & Human Services, 369 HEDCO, 1655 Alder Street, College of Education, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403; E-mail:


Based on an emerging neuroscience model of addiction, this study examines how an imbalance between two neurobehavioral systems (reward motivation and executive control) can distinguish between early adolescent progressive drug use and mere experimentation with drugs. Data from four annual assessments of a community cohort (N = 382) of 11- to 13-year-olds were analyzed to model heterogeneity in patterns of early drug use. Baseline assessments of working memory (an indicator of the functional integrity of the executive control system) and three dimensions of impulsivity (characterizing the balance between reward seeking and executive control systems) were used to predict heterogeneous latent classes of drug use trajectories from early to midadolescence. Findings revealed that an imbalance resulting from weak executive control and heightened reward seeking was predictive of early progression in drug use, while heightened reward seeking balanced by a strong control system was predictive of occasional experimentation only. Implications of these results are discussed in terms of preventive interventions that can target underlying weaknesses in executive control during younger years, and potentially enable at-risk adolescents to exercise greater self-restraint in the context of rewarding drug-related cues.

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Experimentation versus progression in adolescent drug use: A test of an emerging neurobehavioral imbalance model
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