Neural mechanisms of risky decision making in adolescents reporting frequent alcohol and/or marijuana use

Eric D. Claus, Sarah W. Feldstein Ewing, Renee E. Magnan, Erika Montanaro, Kent E. Hutchison, Angela D. Bryan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Because adolescence is a period of heightened exploration of new behaviors, there is a natural increase in risk taking including initial use of alcohol and marijuana. In order to better understand potential differences in neurocognitive functioning among adolescents who use drugs, the current study aimed to identify the neural substrates of risky decision making that differ among adolescents who are primary users of alcohol or marijuana, primary users of both alcohol and marijuana, and controls who report primary use of neither drug. Participants completed the Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART) while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. Comparison of brain activation during risky decisions versus non-risky decisions across all subjects revealed greater response to risky decisions in dorsal anterior cinguate cortex (dACC), anterior insula, ventral striatum, and lateral prefrontal cortex. Group comparisons across non-using controls, primary marijuana, primary alcohol, and alcohol and marijuana users revealed several notable differences in the recruitment of brain regions. Adolescents who use both alcohol and marijauna show decreased response during risky decision making compared to controls in insula, striatum, and thalamus, and reduced differentiation of increasing risk in dACC, insula, striatum, and superior parietal lobe compared to controls. These results provide evidence of differential engagement of risky decision making circuits among adolescents with varying levels of alcohol and marijuana use, and may provide useful targets for longitudinal studies that explicitly address causality of these differences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)564-576
Number of pages13
JournalBrain Imaging and Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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