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Why the Impact of Drugs is Worse, and More Damaging, For Teens Than Adults

Teen brainIt’s pretty well-known that teenagers are impulsive, emotional rather than logical, and tend to act without thinking of the long-term consequences of their actions. And when it comes to taking drugs, those long-term consequences can be dire. Why?

  1. Teenage brains are still developing. Teenagers are not just less-experienced adults; they are undergoing a particular developmental stage where their brains are sensitive to neurological assault. Adolescents, more than any other age group, are at risk for substance addiction—and they risk permanent intellectual and emotional damage due to the effects of drugs.
  2. Teens tend to develop addictions more rapidly than adults. During adolescence, the areas of the brain that govern impulse control “go dark,” while those areas that deal with reward and motivation become more sensitive and powerful. In short, an adolescent’s brain is designed to send out deep cravings for rewards, while the portions of the brain that might reign in those impulses aren’t active yet. Since drugs are rewarding and impulse control levels are low, teens might take drugs repeatedly, as they have no way to combat cravings.
  3. Escalating from use to abuse is remarkably easy for teens because of how their brains work, yet those high doses of drugs may do almost irreparable damage to fragile, adolescent brain cells.

What kind of damage can drugs wreak on the adolescent brain?

According to research published in Clinical EEG and Neuroscience: Official Journal of the EEG and Clinical Neuroscience Society, the consequences of adolescent drug use include abnormalities in:

  • Brain volume
  • Quality of white matter
  • Cognitive function, including memory
  • Brain activation

Teenagers’ brains develop unevenly, basically from back to front, from early adolescence into the mid-20s. The parts that develop first are the parts that control physical coordination, emotion, and motivation—but the part of the brain that controls reasoning and impulses, the prefrontal cortex, develops last. Adults use the prefrontal cortex to solve problems and make decisions, and teenagers who abuse drugs may not reach this stage of development.

Adolescent drug use causes persistent changes in the cells of the brain, but addicted teens are not doomed to live with addiction forever if they get help. The brain is always changing and always growing, so with help, teens can heal and learn how to make better choices in the future.

Call Horizon Health Services today at (716) 831-1800 if you know and love a teenager whose drug use is just beginning or has already affected his or her life. We can help guide you and that teen to the best programs and treatment that will assist in long-term recovery and success.