Neuroimaging provides a non-invasive window into the development of the adolescent brain. Such studies have helped identify important milestones in brain development from age 10 to the early 20s, which along with cognitive and emotional maturation allows for a successful transition to independence. Brain development is notably susceptible to alcohol and drug use, and therefore has a lifelong influence on mental health and behavior.
Accordingly, we investigate the overlap between brain development, substance use, and mental illness, perhaps helping to explain the onset of clinical symptoms related to conditions such as depression and anxiety.
In addition to our adolescent work, we are investigating the consequences of emerging adult binge drinking (ages 18 to 24) on brain structure and chemistry. This is part of our probe into the neurobiology underlying “What were you thinking?”—the brain mechanisms associated with impulsive and risky behaviors. Collectively, our goals are to identify who’s at greatest risk for addictive and psychiatric disorders, and to develop effective prevention strategies.