Developmental perspectives on methamphetamine abuse: Exploring adolescent vulnerabilities on brain and behavior

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Most people that experience illicit drugs do so for the first time during adolescence, and methamphetamine (meth) is no exception. Therefore, research into the effects of meth should highlight the adolescent period. Despite this, the vast majority of current literature has mainly focused on meth exposure during adulthood. In this review, we first describe existing literature that compares the behavioral effects of meth where exposure occurs in adolescence compared to adulthood. Given that there are actually very few such studies, we also look at what is known about neural effects of meth in the adult brain, and relate these to normal neural development occurring during the adolescent period to establish how meth may target maturing regions and related neurochemistry. What emerges overall is that adolescents appear to be more vulnerable to the rewarding and reinforcing effects of meth, and that meth indeed has effects on areas that are in flux during adolescence. However, there is some evidence for a paradoxical resistance to the neurotoxic effects during this period. We highlight the need for further age-related research to better understand, treat, and prevent meth use disorders and addiction in general.HighlightsMethamphetamine use usually begins in adolescence, and earlier onset is associated with increased risk of developing a substance use disorder.Most research into the effects of meth looks at adult rather than adolescent behavior.Methamphetamine exposure causes volumetric and neurotransmitter changes in regions that are developing during adolescence.Dopamine cell loss following acute meth exposure is lower in adolescents than adults.

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