Adolescent Alcohol Consumption – Its Effect on Risk-Preference

Effect of adolescent alcohol consumption on risk-preference and neural encoding of risky rewards
2011 Seed Grant
Jamie Roitman, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
University of Illinois at Chicago

Dr. Jamie Roitman, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), is interested in understanding the neural mechanisms that underlie decision-making.  Failure to engage in appropriate decision-making can adversely impact our finances and health, and is broadly implicated in many disorders – such as gambling, drug addiction, smoking, overeating, and affective disorders.

Dr. Roitman was awarded a 2011 seed grant by the Brain Research Foundation to study how increased alcohol consumption in adolescence may have long term effects on risk-taking and decision-making abilities in adulthood. The idea behind the proposal has been something that Roitman has thought about for several years. But until she received BRF funding she did not have the means to pursue this research project.

With her $40,000 seed grant, Dr. Roitman is employing a post-doctoral fellow in her lab to measure how consumption of alcohol by rodents during the critical development period of adolescence alters adult patterns of activity in two key areas of the brain — the orbitofrontal cortex, which is involved in evaluating risk to guide decisions, and the nucleus accumbens, which is important for processing rewards and goal-directed behavior.

“Adolescence is a time in our lives when the front part of our brains is going through structural changes,” said Dr. Roitman.  “In the project funded by the BRF, I’m looking at the neural circuitry that continues to lead to what most would agree are poor decisions in adulthood even after the excessive alcohol consumption is no longer prevalent.  I’m hoping it can lead to a better understanding of why we continue to jump at immediate rewards rather than look at the long-term outcomes of our actions once we are adults.”

With the data collected in this project, Dr. Roitman said she plans to apply for a grant with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to broaden her study on the topic.

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