The Effects of Substance Abuse on Adolescent Development

by Laura Agadoni Google

    Teenagers often feel indestructible, believe that nothing can happen to them and are willing to take certain risks. Some teens are also curious about drugs and alcohol. However, if they become involved with illicit substances, they are playing with fire. MayoClinic.com advises that teens who experiment are putting their health and safety at risk. Teens are more likely to use drugs if there is a history of substance abuse in their family, if they are depressed or impulsive, have experienced a trauma, have low self-esteem, do poorly in school or hang out with people who abuse drugs.

    The teenage brain is still developing, and if teens consume drugs or alcohol, they risk causing permanent intellectual and emotional damage, according to the Science and Management of Addictions Foundation. Alcohol consumed during early adolescence can disrupt endocrine development, which regulates mood and reproductive processes. Teens who smoke marijuana performed worse on learning tests and their memory was affected, according to a January 2009 study published in Clinical EEG and Neuroscience. Stanton Glantz, director of the University of California at San Francisco’s Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, told ABC News that psychoactive substances are “messing with the brain as it’s developing.”

    The poor choices teens make while under the influence of illicit substances can affect their social development. For example, teenagers often engage in sexual activities after taking drugs or drinking alcohol, according to Campaign For Our Children. They might be less inclined to use contraception while they are under the influence. Campaign For Our Children reports that teens who smoke marijuana, for example, are four times more likely to have been pregnant or to have gotten someone pregnant.

    Teenagers don’t have a lot of experience driving, so their risk of having an accident is greater than more experienced drivers. Auto accidents were the leading cause of death for teens between 15 and 19 in 2007, according to WhiteHouse.gov. Add substance abuse to driving inexperience, and the risk of having an auto accident increases.

    One out of four people who starts using drugs or alcohol as a teenager becomes addicted, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, reported ABC News. Teens don’t have positive life prospects if they become addicted. Because the brain is still developing during adolescence, it is more sensitive to substances, which increases the risk of addiction, according to ABC News.

    When teens start using drugs or drinking alcohol during the developmental years, their social and emotional development stops, according to the University of Houston, Clear Lake. So a person who started taking drugs at age 14 stays at the social and emotional age of 14. This can manifest by continued risky behavior, poor judgment and not being able to adequately understand the consequences of actions.

    About the Author

    Laura Agadoni has been writing professionally since 1983. Her feature stories on area businesses, human interest and health and fitness appear in her local newspaper. She has also written and edited for a grassroots outreach effort and has been published in "Clean Eating" magazine and in "Dimensions" magazine, a CUNA Mutual publication. Agadoni has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from California State University-Fullerton.

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