A new research by the University of Oregon shows that teens who are not focused on their goals are the ones to involve in substance abuse. The study found that youngsters who have a strong working memory can easily escape early drug experimentation without progressing into substance abuse problems.
According to the study's lead author, Atika Khurana, executive attention plays an important role in helping youngsters not indulge in substance abuse. Executive attention is a component of working memory that involves a person's ability to focus on a task and ignore distractions while processing relevant goal-oriented information, she explained.
The study was conducted on children aged between 11 and 13. This is the period, researchers say, when children explore risky and sensation-seeking experiences.
"Not all forms of early drug use are problematic," Khurana, a professor in the Department of Counseling Psychology and Human Services, said in a press release. "There could be some individuals who start early, experiment and then stop. And there are some who could start early and go on into a progressive trajectory of continued drug use. We wanted to know what separates the two?"
The findings of the study revealed that if teens perform badly on working memory tasks that tap into executive attention, they are more likely to get involved in impulsive drug-use behaviors. The study suggests new approaches for early intervention since weaknesses in executive functioning often underlie self-control issues in children as young as 3 years old.
"We need to compensate for the weakness that exists, before drug experimentation starts to help prevent the negative spiral of drug abuse," Khurana said.