Health Effects of Teen Substance Abuse

While some teenagers will “grow out” of a desire to use drugs, even brief amounts of abuse could have lasting effects on their development and physical well-being.

Why the Teenage Brain is Susceptible to Addiction

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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.

As the brain changes, some brain functions form 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 of drug use (such as being accepted among peers or feeling more social) than they are to evaluate the negative effects. If you’re concerned about substance abuse in the life of a teen you know, get in touch with us now for help and support.

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Brain Development During Teen Years

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 for later in life.

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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How Drinking Affects Teens

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 dependence 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 liver enzymes that indicate liver damage
  • Shorter limbs and reduced growth potential
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    Social and Professional Risks of Teen Substance Abuse

    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
    • Late start in chosen career path
    • Damaged relationships with friends and family

    Get Help for Your Teen

    If you know a teen who is showing dangerous signs of drug or alcohol abuse, you can help them get through it. Get in touch with our specialists today to find out how to get them help.

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