My story is nothing special but I know that it will help someone out there to get through depression or help someone understand a little more on what its like to live with such an illness.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Arrested Development

     If you had to explain what arrested development (AD) is, could you do it? Do you even know what it is?
If you google AD, the first thing that comes up is a link to wikipedia telling you its a tv series - seemed to be a bit of a flop of a show, but nonetheless, this is not the AD I was looking for. In fact, the entire page 1 of the google search is dedicated to the show, and most of page 2. Obviously, I needed to be more specific. 
Arrested development is a term psychologists and the like use to describe someone who has gone through some sort of trauma, drug abuse, alcohol abuse or something similar and at that point in time in their life is where their development has been arrested. It has been stopped in its tracks. Their development, their brains neurochemicals, their mind, behaviour, speech, responses, motivation and emotions have ceased to continue. 

     Your teenager starts drinking at 14, or drug use starts at 17, or becomes bullemic at 11, anorexic at 19. At that point in time, they cease to develop mentally and emotionally. When teens start using drugs or drinking alcohol during the developmental years, their social and emotional development stops. So a person who started taking drugs at age 14 stays at the social and emotional age of 14. This can manifest by continued risky behavior, poor judgment and not being able to adequately understand the consequences of actions.
You might come across someone at work, at the pub, at the shops, they may be another parent at the school your child/ren attend and you look at them and think "WTF?!". They look grown up, but mentally they have AD.

     The teenage brain  is still developing (personally from a health and psychologist perspective, I believe the brain is still developing right up to the age of 25, and I have medical information to back this up, but that is for another day), and if teens consume drugs or alcohol, they risk causing permanent intellectual and emotional damage, according to the Science and Management of Addictions Foundation. Alcohol consumed during early adolescence can disrupt endocrine development, which regulates mood and reproductive processes. 

     Teens who smoke marijuana performed worse on learning tests and their memory was affected, according to a January 2009 study published in Clinical EEG and Neuroscience. Stanton Glantz, director of the University of California at San Francisco’s Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, told ABC News that psychoactive substances are “messing with the brain as it’s developing.” But we know this already, its not new news, its old, but one that still needs attention because there are just far too many parents out there who think its funny to offer their 13yr old daughter alcohol shots because "she needs to make her own choices in life, and if she is going to do it, I want to know".

     One out of four people who starts using drugs or alcohol as a teenager becomes addicted, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, reported ABC News. Teens don’t have positive life prospects if they become addicted. Because the brain is still developing during adolescence, it is more sensitive to substances, which increases the risk of addiction, and there we have it - arrested development.

Now, here comes the part where I start getting a little more technical. Remember, neuroscience is my love, amazingly facinating and something everyone should have some idea on how it all works. I've tried to make it interesting, less sciencey and boring, I hope you can understand it: 
Although most of the brain material and size is in place at the start of adolescence, several important developmental processes continue .

If all goes well, the brain will be a much more efficient organ at the end of a healthy adolescence.
One process is myelination.  The axons connecting brain cells across which electrical impulses travel continue to become ensheathed in a fatty substance called myelin.  This compound  insulates axons and speeds the relay of electric impulses within the brain, helping thinking, decision-making, impulse control, and emotional regulation mature.
Another process is synaptic refinement. At the start of adolescence, we have billions of brain cells, each with tens of thousands of connections to other brain cells.  Not all these connections are actually needed, and the unnecessary ones become  eliminated.  This elimination process is shaped by the young person’s activities and experiences, and, as with myelination, it helps the brain work more efficiently.
MRI studies reveal ongoing brain maturation during late childhood and early adulthood. Early MRI studies suggest regionally varying volume decreases in gray matter of the cortex and subcortical nuclei). More recent studies provide more anatomical detail, emphasize the effects of ongoing myelination and employ mapping methods for visualizing the pattern of age-related change. 
Exposure to alcohol and other drugs during adolescence may alter the function of frontal-striatal and limbic circuits to interact with this pattern of ongoing brain maturation during late adolescence and early adulthood.

So to avoid AD, remember this:
P = Promote activities that capitalise on the strengths of the developing brain.
A = Assist children with challenges that require planning.
R = Reinforce their seeking advice from adults; teach decision making.
E =  Encourage a lifestyle that promotes good brain development.
N = Never underestimate the effects of alcohol on the developing brain.
T = Tolerate the “oops” behaviors due to an immature brain.  

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