A new study has found that a strong working memory can combat problematic drug use.
"Prefrontal regions of the brain can apply the brakes or exert top-down control over impulsive, or reward seeking urges," Khurana said. "By its nature, greater executive attention enables one to be less impulsive in one's decisions and actions because you are focused and able to control impulses generated by events around you. What we found is that if teens are performing poorly on working memory tasks that tap into executive attention, they are more likely to engage in impulsive drug-use behaviors."
The findings suggest new approaches for early intervention since weaknesses in executive functioning often underlie self-control issues in children as young as 3 years old, she said. A family environment strong in structured routines and cognitive-stimulation could strengthen working memory skills, she said.
For older children, interventions could be built around activities that encourage social competence and problem solving skills in combination with cognition-building efforts to increase self-control and working memory. The latter allows people to temporarily store, organize and manipulate mental information and is vital for evaluating consequences of decisions.
"We need to compensate for the weakness that exists, before drug experimentation starts to help prevent the negative spiral of drug abuse," Khurana said.