Addiction is never something to take lightly, as it changes brain function and causes chemical imbalances. In an adult brain, these changes can have a damaging effect, but what’s even more damaging is the negative impacts addiction can have on a developing teen brain. The side effects of drug abuse in teens have been found to show a dramatic influence on physical and mental development. 

Why Are Teens Prone to Risks of Addiction?

The brain in the teenage years is developing and forming rapidly. It’s known that the human brain often doesn’t fully develop until the age of 25. Because of this, repeated chemical use that can alter the brain can have potentially life-altering effects for a teen brain. 

Additionally, certain functions of an adolescent brain develop at different stages. For example, the centers of the brain that process pleasure and emotion (the limbic system) develop and function faster than other parts of the brain that process safety, risk, and responsible decision-making (the prefrontal cortex). This can explain why many teens are stereotyped as “risk-takers”, rebellious, and showing testy behavior. It’s in fact largely impacted by the way their brains are growing. 

During this time, a lot of teens start experimenting with drugs or alcohol. Several other things influence the start of substance use: 

  • The desire to fit in with peers 
  • That delayed reasoning to weigh the potential dangers or long-term effects 
  • Wanting to feel more confident in their own skin and using drugs as a “social lubricant”
  • Feeling strong effects from substances and wanting to revisit the new or exciting reactions 
  • Using drugs as a way to escape or temporarily forget about life stress, family issues, or challenging personal emotions during high school 

teen party

How Does Drug or Alcohol Use Influence a Teen’s Brain?

We now know the teenage brain is one that still needs to be developed fully. When drugs or alcohol are introduced on a regular basis to an underdeveloped brain, it can cause neurological growth to become stunted. It can cause lifelong health consequences, learning challenges, behavioral problems, and sometimes even spark a dormant mental illness. 

Unfortunately, many teens either don’t know or are not made aware of what the risks of their health can be with substance abuse. What might seem like many fun, cool, or exciting nights of binge drinking can actually cause pain years later. Many don’t know this because they think the worst effects simply go away the next day, aside from maybe a hangover. 

Ways that drugs and alcohol can disrupt a teenage brain include: 

  • A decrease in response to stressful stimuli
  • Sleep issues
  • Memory loss 
  • Learning difficulty
  • Risk of developing mental disorders early
  • Dramatic mood changes
  • Weight loss or gain 
  • Chance of developing an addiction 
  • Negative or traumatic experiences involved with drug use 
  • Violence
  • Risky sexual behavior
  • Bad psychedelic trips

teens hanging out

Probably the most eye-opening statistics of teen drug use is that nearly 90% of people with substance abuse in America started using in their teen years. The National Institute on Drug Abuse claims that using illicit drugs before the age of 18 can rewire the brain into unbalanced development. It can also pose challenges for the way the brain learns how to function as an adult. 

Effects of Drug Abuse in Teens Increase the Risk of: 

Learning Problems

Memory loss and cognitive functioning are both affected by the drug abuse of young adults. These can both contribute to delayed development into adulthood. Many teens with substance use disorders have trouble focusing in school, setting goals for themselves, or learning new responsibilities that could help them grow and mature. 

Social Difficulties 

As we mentioned earlier, many teenagers begin drug experimentation because they feel like it will make them fit in with their peer groups more. We all know as teenagers how uncomfortable social situations could be– we felt awkward, self-conscious, and insecure about ourselves, right? Some of us chose to use drugs or alcohol in social situations as a way to feel more carefree– to open up and be more friendly without worrying about what people would think of us. 

This, if it becomes a habit, can cause social difficulties into adulthood. Not knowing how to relate to others, be ourselves, or express our social interests without the use of drugs is no healthy way to live. Sadly, this is a reality for many people who end up struggling with addiction from their teen years.

Alternatively, some teens can fall into the wrong crowd which might set them up for trouble with elders, the law, or their community. The stigma of drug abuse among teens is quite harsh! Society tends to view them as “delinquents”, trouble-makers, or just overall “bad” people when really, they most likely need some help working through an addiction.

teenage girl

Sexual Risks Into Adulthood

This point might be obvious: drugs and alcohol lead to making unwise decisions, especially when emotions and hormones are high. Evidence has shown for decades that teenagers who consume drugs and alcohol are more likely to have unprotected sex. This could lead to scenarios such as unwanted pregnancies, STI’s, rape, toxic relationships, and potentially reproductive issues later on.

Binge Drinking Effects on Teens

Binge drinking is a common theme among teenagers and house parties. What some of them don’t know, however, is that teenage brains respond differently to alcohol. Alcohol that is introduced to teenagers early on has a greater risk of posing alcohol abuse disorder as they grow older. 

Drinking in excess also causes a risk for serious health issues, like: 

  • Liver damage
  • Calcium and bone-mineral deficiencies 
  • Complications with the reproductive system 
  • Higher rate of depression 
  • Challenges with puberty
  • Hormone imbalances 

But Hasn’t the Rate of Teen Drug Use Gone Down Recently?

In a 2018 report from the NIDA, the number of teenagers who consume drugs or alcohol regularly has actually decreased in recent years. Statistically, teen use of hard drugs and alcohol is showing to be at its lowest point since around 1975! 

Although the common numbers seem lower, there’s been a lot more overdose deaths among teens lately. Overdoses often have to do with opioids, like heroin or prescription drugs. The synthetic opioid, fentanyl, has also contributed.

As we’ve discussed openly here at Opus Health, fentanyl is often used as fillers in various recreational drugs these days. This could have something to do with the overdose deaths seen among teens. Many teenagers are unaware of fentanyl, or the fact it could be hiding in their drugs of choice– specifically opioids.

Ways to Talk to Teens About Drugs 

Now the question is: how can we start helping young adults through talking about the effects of drug abuse in teens? Many times it can seem impossible to help our kids or teen family members see the truth and potential health problems with abusing drugs. Obviously, there’s no way to actually control another person, no matter how badly we wish to see them make healthier choices. But there are simple honest conversations that can take place early on in order to give our teenagers a more educated perspective. 

Empowering Teens to Make Their Own Educated Decisions

Probably the most influential thing a parent can do for their kids is simply a good example. Practice what you preach, be the best version of yourself, and live a healthy lifestyle while raising a family. Kids look up to their parents, whether they take what they see as a positive or negative pattern through growing years. 

We all know the cheesy anti-drug campaigns rallying through highschools and middle-schools. These can make a positive impact, but the primary source of values comes from the home and closest peers. Therefore, talk to your kids about how they can be aware of and prepared for situations where drugs might be presented to them. 

Teach them earlier in their teen years to know the risks, side effects, feelings, pressures, and possible outcomes of substance abuse. The intention isn’t to try controlling them or forcing them to make one decision or another– often, that can cause teens to rebel even more. But the more teens have an empowering sense of what’s going on in the real world, they can better decide what matters to them, feel confident in making their own decisions, and feel comfortable with educating themselves on the matter at hand. 

Getting Help for Teens with Drug Abuse

On the other hand, if someone you care about is already experiencing the side effects of drug on teens, it’s important to let them know you care about them and want to help them get through this.

If you need help overcoming the effects of drug abuse in teens, call us at 949-625-4019.

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