Feb. 17, 2017
Do you remember the news from the newspaper I told you last week about the five men who were caught red-handed while dealing cocaine? I was telling you that their names sounded familiar. As it turns out, they were actually kids I had taken care of at the juvenile detention center, years ago.
When I think back to the day those kids were admitted to the detention center, I remember them being so nice. They’d been charged with “thrill driving”—you know—typical risk-taking behavior. We got kids with those issues all the time. In the detention center we helped them fix their behavior and before they returned to the society. I thought that our program would turn them be great adults. Turns out I was wrong, as they’ve decided to do illegal drugs.
I was conflicted earlier today when I realized that I had failed to successfully help the five men – my five kids. They may have stopped thrill driving, but they still turned to drugs. I thought something was wrong with our program. Maybe our methods weren’t good enough to keep them away from illegal activities.
But, Diary, a few hours ago, I came across an article that could explain this phenomenon. Written by Mitchell and her colleagues from University of Florida, it explains how risk-taking behavior and self-administration of cocaine are related. Here’s the gist of their study:
To further explore the association between risk-taking behavior and drug use, Mitchell experimented with rats in a “Risky Decision-Making Task.” The rats had to choose between two levers to get food: the first one gave a decent-sized portion of food, while the second gave a much more food, but also an occasional, unpredictable shock, representing the risk-taking option. This part of their study allowed them to categorize the rats based on their level of risk-taking behavior. The researchers later exposed all the rats to cocaine, and found that the ones with higher risk-taking behavior tended to self-administer cocaine more often. They also found that this self-administering of cocaine led to even more risk-taking behaviors (i.e. a greater tendency to choose the lever with shocks). Thus, a vicious cycle formed, making it extremely hard for the rats to stop either of these behaviors.
Now let’s look back at those five kids. Their thrill-driving behavior can be compared to the rats’ preference of the lever with more food and unpredictable shock –the risk-taking behaviors. Later on, when the kids returned to the streets, they were exposed to cocaine and quickly succumbed to addiction. Their risk-taking behavior had encouraged them to experiment. I just hope that they won’t be stuck in the same vicious cycle as the rats. In the meantime, I’ll try my best to find a way to break this cycle for the other kids in the future, so that they’ll be able to leave this wicked cycle, as they leave our detention center.
Thanks for always listening, Diary. I’ll talk to you later then. J
Reference: Mitchell, M. R., Weiss, V. G., Beas, B. S., Morgan, D., Bizon, J. L., & Setlow, B. (2013). Adolescent Risk Taking, Cocaine Self-Administration, and Striatal Dopamine Signaling. Neuropsychopharmacology, 39(4), 955-962.