Misuse of substances like alcohol and drugs is a growing problem in the US. With all new drug users are under the age of 18 and one in five high school students have abused prescription drugs. Additionally, one-third of high school students currently use alcohol, 23% use marijuana, and 22% use all forms of tobacco combined.
Teens and young adults are wired in such a way that they enjoy taking risks and want to experiment. This means that teens and young adults are more like to use drugs. Teens involve a chemical called dopamine in their brain’s reward center. Dopamine helps transmit signals in the brain that makes people feel happy. The number of brain receptors interacting with dopamine is higher in adolescents than at any other time of life.
That means that when a teen is exposed to a reward such as a compliment, the reward center reacts more strongly than it would for an adult. Also being with friends increases the sensitivity to rewards and makes the already sensitive reward system even more sensitive. Some of the biological reasons why teens sometimes decide to do things with their friends that otherwise, they would never do there could be because feeling rewards more strongly and responding more intensely to what peers may think. This can be positive by encouraging friends to take on new challenges, but it can also lead to dangerous decisions such as drug and alcohol abuse.
Adolescents and young adults are susceptible to boredom and peer pressure. This is something that puts them at a higher risk of using drugs and alcohol. Adolescents and young adults may also be experiencing feelings of depression or bullying at school, or even anxiety. Those are some other reasons that they may decide to experiment with alcohol and other drugs.
While experimenting with alcohol and drug use during adolescence and young adulthood doesn’t necessarily lead to addiction, we know that most people who develop an addiction, later on, started to use substances before they were 18 years old. Even for those adolescents who do not develop drug addiction, there is still risk associated with using substances, such as engaging in unsafe sex practices, getting in motor vehicle accidents, and being vulnerable emotionally.
Importantly, although there is a high prevalence of alcohol and marijuana use in teenagers, we also know that these rates are the lowest that they have been in years. It means that the prevention programs we have been implementing over the past decade are making a difference.
Adolescence is a critical time for brain development, and we know that addiction is a brain disease. There is a difference in the way all the drugs work, but they are more or less similar. They all increase the amount of dopamine in our brain and as mentioned earlier, dopamine is the chemical that affects our reward system and makes us feel good. It increases if use alcohol and any kind of drugs.
The adolescent brain is immature and seeks sensations. It responds pretty positively to the increase in dopamine in their brain and that adolescent is going to seek to repeat that experience. Those repeated exposures can lead to addiction over a period.
Drug use and abuse can contribute to long-term and short-term health risks. It has been found that drug use can have long-term effects on a developing teenage brain. MRI scans of the brain have shown that people who have been using drugs for a long time have a smaller prefrontal cortex than people who have not been using drugs. The prefrontal cortex is the area where decision-making occurs.
Drug use can result in poor grades, memory loss, and social problems. A lot of us have an idea about what a person dependent on drugs looks like. However, anyone can suffer from this type of addiction. Addiction does not depend on income, job, race, or color. It is a disease of the brain, and it can happen to anyone. Drug dependency is when a person consumes alcohol or drugs regularly even though it causes issues in their lives and relationships with others.
Get help if you need it. Encourage your friends to get help too. If you or someone you love is struggling with drug use or abuse, please call the specific authorities and go to the sites given out by the government and other help organizations.