Scientists Pinpoint Why Teens Are More Vulnerable to Coke

By Valerie Tejeda 02/22/12

Starting drug use in your teens increases your chance of becoming addicted. We're now closer to understanding exactly why.

Teenage brains are especially addiction

Yale researchers and other scientists have discovered that the adolescent brain launches a strong defensive reaction when first exposed to cocaine. Two new studies identify the genes responsible for this reaction; the hope is to determine why the risk of drug addiction drastically increases if a person starts using as a teenager. In the first study, researchers found that teens have a much higher vulnerability to cocaine than adults mainly because the adolescent brain is shifting from an explosive, plastic growth phase to more settled and refined neural connections. Past studies at Yale have shown that this change in the brain’s shape is regulate by the gene "intergrin beta 1," which plays an essential role in the development of the nervous system."This suggests that these structural changes observed are probably protective of the neurocircuitry, an effort of the neuron to protect itself when first exposed to cocaine," says Anthony Koleske, senior author of both papers. In the second study, Yale researchers found that when cocaine-using mice had their integrin beta 1 pathway knocked out, they needed three times less coke to bring about behavioral changes. "If you were to become totally desensitized to cocaine, there is no reason to seek the drug," says Koleske. The results suggest that the intergrin beta 1 pathway plays a huge role in why some teen cocaine users become addicted and others don't.

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Entertainment journalist and author Valerie Tejeda spends her days reporting on books, television, and all things pertaining to pop culture, and spends her nights writing novels for teens. Her stories have appeared on a variety of different publications, including but not limited to: VanityFair, MTV, The Huffington Post, TeenVogue, She Knows, Latina, The Fix,, Cosmopolitan, and more. You can find Valerie on Linkedin and Twitter.