Why The Teenage Brain Is Susceptible To Addiction

Some studies of the human brain have attempted to pinpoint the changes that occur during adolescence. Health researchers have found that dramatic spurts of both physical and intellectual growth happen during the teenage years; the negative health effects of teen substance abuse can interfere with these crucial processes at exactly the wrong time.

As the brain develops, some functions mature at different rates.

The pleasure centers of a teenager’s brain develop faster than the parts of the brain responsible for decision-making and risk analysis.

It’s no secret that teenagers can be risk-takers who don’t always recognize the consequences of their actions. Drug and alcohol experimentation is often highest during these critical formative years.

Teens are more likely to perceive social benefits to drug use (such as being accepted among peers or feeling more sociable) than they are to evaluate negative effects. If you’re concerned about substance abuse in the life of a teen you know, contact a treatment provider for help and support.

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Health Effects Of Teen Substance Abuse: Brain Development

During adolescence, a young person goes through biological and psychological changes. In addition to the physical changes that mark growing up, the teen’s brain is also developing ways to work more effectively. One way it accomplishes this is through eliminating unnecessary synapses and connections between different parts of the brain. This kind of mental pruning allows the adult brain to be more focused and efficient.

Why Substance Abuse Is Detrimental To The Brain

The teenage years are vital to healthy cognitive function as an adult, so it is important to maintain a strict level of healthy behavior during these years. Drug abuse can impact the brain’s ability to function in the short term as well as prevent proper growth and development in the long term.

Substance abuse affects teen brain development by:

  • Interfering with neurotransmitters and damaging connections within the brain.
  • Reducing the ability to experience pleasure.
  • Creating problems with memory.
  • Causing missed opportunities during a period of heightened learning potential.
  • Ingraining expectations of unhealthy habits into brain circuitry.
  • Inhibiting development of perceptual abilities.

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Health Effects Of Teen Substance Abuse: Drinking

Teens tend to be more likely than adults to binge drink (drinking enough in a short amount of time to reach the legal blood alcohol content limit). Studies have also shown that the teen brain responds differently to alcohol than the adult brain does. People who begin drinking during adolescence, especially those who drink a lot, are more likely to develop an alcohol dependency than those who don’t.

In addition to addiction risks, alcohol poses a serious risk to the physical health and growth of teens. Studies have shown that excessive drinking in teens can result in:

  • Delayed puberty and/or negative effects on the reproductive system.
  • Lower bone mineral density.
  • Higher levels of enzymes that indicate liver damage.
  • Shorter limbs and reduced growth potential.

Health Effects Of Teen Substance Abuse: Social And Professional Risks

In addition to the physical risks of teen drinking and drug abuse, there are many other consequences that could haunt teens well into adulthood. Because substance abuse can muddy reasoning and encourage rash decisions, there are many side effects of substance abuse that go far beyond the biological and physiological aspects.

Some of these include:

  • Criminal records that cannot be expunged.
  • Car accidents.
  • Assaults.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Unplanned pregnancies.
  • Wasted academic opportunities.
  • Delayed or deferred career opportunities.
  • Damaged relationships with friends and family,

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Get Help For Teens

If you know a teen who is showing dangerous signs of drug or alcohol abuse, you can help them get through it. Contact a treatment provider today to discuss treatment options.



Jeffrey Juergens

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  • Jeffrey Juergens earned his Bachelor’s and Juris Doctor from the University of Florida. Jeffrey’s desire to help others led him to focus on economic and social development and policy making. After graduation, he decided to pursue his passion of writing and editing. Jeffrey’s mission is to educate and inform the public on addiction issues and help those in need of treatment find the best option for them.

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David Hampton

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  • David embarked on his journey into sobriety in June of 2005, which led him to his current career path as a Certified Professional Addiction Recovery Coach in private practice in Greater Nashville. David is also a public speaker and the author of two books. David is cohost of the weekly Positive Sobriety Podcast, as well as being a frequent contributor to various articles and recovery based materials. As a member of the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC), David works closely with area treatment centers, recovery orientated nonprofit organizations, as well as being a keynote speaker for various recovery-focused events.

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