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Early Cocaine Users Suffer from Greater Degree of Cognitive Impairment

Adolescence is a period marked by rapid neurodevelopmental and physical changes as the

individual matures into an adult. This is also the time when teenagers become more aware of
themselves, their peers and environment, which affect their thoughts, behavior and outlook
in myriad ways.
Due to the increased pressure to excel in academics and become popular in the friend circle,
they are also likely to experiment with several intoxicating substances, such as alcohol,
marijuana and other illicit drugs. Compared to other age groups, a large number of teenagers
are wrestling with the multipronged challenges of substance abuse.
The illicit and recreational use of substances during adolescence has been associated with
several complications, such as poor academic performance, inability to maintain healthy
relationships with others, a greater risk for developing psychiatric disorders, and experiencing
legal problems every now and then.
In fact, a study carried out by
the University of São Paulo's
Medical School (FM-USP) in
Brazil corroborated the
earlier suspicion of
neuroscientists that
individuals who used cocaine
during adolescence exhibited
more conspicuous cognitive
deficits than those who
started using cocaine during
adulthood. Moreover, the
researchers found
pronounced differences
between both the groups in
terms of neuropsychological functions, such as sustained attention, working and declarative
memory, etc. The other findings were published in the journal Addictive Behaviors.
Early cocaine use and effect on neurodevelopment
The study recruited 103 cocaine-dependent patients, including 52 early-onset users who had
begun using the drug prior to the age of 18 and 51 late-onset users who began using it after
the age of 18. The third group of 63 individuals with no history of substance abuse acted as
the control group. The average age of the participants ranged from 20 to 35.
The participants were assigned tasks, such as repeating a sequence of numbers in a reverse
order or recalling figures from memory after 30 minutes of observation. Under the controlled
drug abstinence conditions, the researchers tested the specific neuropsychological functions,
such as sustained attention, working memory and declarative memory, to understand the
differences between the early-onset and late-onset users. The key findings of the study were
as follows:

 Compared to the late-onset users, the concurrent consumption of cannabis and

alcohol was as high as 50 percent and 30 percent more frequent among the early-
onset users, respectively.
 Certain functions of the prefrontal cortex, such as planning, decision-making,
inhibitory control attention, and working memory were more prominently impaired
among the early-onset users.
 After making adjustments for variables like age and intelligence quotient (IQ), it was
found that early-onset users faced more problems in areas that required divided
attention to perform multiple tasks simultaneously.
 The cognitive deficits observed were far more severe among the early-onset
individuals compared to the late-onset users.
According to the researchers, the study that was performed under controlled drug abstinence
conditions highlighted the adverse consequences of cocaine use among teenagers. Given the
above impairment of cognitive functions among the early-onset users, the researchers
recommended multidisciplinary treatment that includes both medications and talk therapy.
Moreover, people need to keep tabs on the activities of teenagers to avoid lifelong
neurodevelopmental damages. Paulo Jannuzzi Cunha, principal investigator for the study,
corroborated the close link between cognitive impairment and adolescence, “Adolescence is
considered one of the key stages of brain development when surplus synapses are eliminated
and the structures essential to adulthood are selected and refined. Drug use in this stage can
impair the brain programming process and lead to the loss of important connections.”
Seek holistic treatment to get out of addiction
Teenagers who are curious and ready to experiment with substances are at an increased risk
of developing dependence on substances like alcohol and drugs without realizing the
consequences. When they develop an addiction to any substance, it is likely that their
unhealthy and maladaptive coping mechanisms will become more pronounced and rigid in
adulthood. This makes the process of recovery and adherence to medication regimens more
Sovereign Health of Texas understands the plight of someone who is unable to quit his or her
addiction to a substance despite being aware of the consequences. If you or your loved one
is battling an addiction to a substance like cocaine, you can reach out to us. Our state-of-the-
art cocaine addiction treatment in Texas specializes in delivering evidence-based
intervention plans. Call at our 24/7 helpline number (866) 283-6305 to know more about our
El Paso facility, which is among the best in the cocaine addiction treatment centers in Texas.