Adolescent Neurological Development and its Implications for Adolescent Substance Use Prevention

Barbara Lopez; Seth J. Schwartz; Guillermo Prado; Ana E. Campo; Hilda Pantin


J Prim Prev. 2008;29(1):5-35. 

In This Article


The purpose of this article was to review findings from two distinct areas of adolescent development and to attempt to demonstrate how the emerging literature from the basic science of adolescent neurodevelopment can (a) complement findings from the adolescent substance use prevention literature and (b) be used to develop more developmentally appropriate interventions for preventing adolescent substance use. Recent technological advancements have facilitated the study of adolescent neurological development and its implications for adolescent behavior. Findings from these studies indicate that adolescents are cognitively immature in the neurological processes related to decision making. Knowledge regarding the effects of this immaturity on adolescent decision making about substance use can be useful for the development of more efficacious substance use preventive interventions. Given what is known about adolescent neurological development, comprehensive interventions (e.g., family-based + child-centered interventions) that can provide the adolescent with a supportive familial and broader ecological context may provide the adolescent with additional protection from substance use. These interventions may also facilitate the rehearsal and development of decision making abilities. These two characteristics of these interventions may make joint family-child interventions especially effective. However, further research is needed to examine the link between neurological development and decision making ability across development and the long term efficacy of comprehensive interventions for preventing adolescent substance use despite immature neurological development. It is hoped that this review will help to inspire the movement of future prevention research in this direction.


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