Many parents do not tolerate drug use by their teenage children because of the possibility of them underachieving or even becoming addicted. Other parents may think occasional drug or alcohol use is all right as many teenagers experiment with them during high school. What both ends of this spectrum do not realize, as well as the teenagers who are using, is that the teenage brain is far more susceptible to damage from drugs and alcohol than the adult brain.
Short Term Effects
Drug and alcohol abuse cause longer lasting effects in the teen brain than the adult brain. The teen brain has more receptors in the brain for the drug to bind to. For example, when a teen smokes marijuana, the brain holds onto the cannabis for a prolonged period of time in comparison with the adult brain. Cognitive function is decreased for a longer period of time in the form of impaired memory, concentration, and learning ability. As the teen brain is still growing, the use of alcohol and drugs is far more likely to cause a dependency to develop. Since the brain is growing and learning, drugs cause a change in brain chemistry amongst teens that put a high value on acquiring the high. As addiction is agreed to be a disease of learned behaviors, and during teen years the brain is learning how to behave, they are especially vulnerable to dependency and addiction. Dependency and addiction can cause problems of their own, with heavy chronic abuse of some substances being fatal.
Drug and alcohol abuse by teens is more likely to cause long-lasting, sometimes permanent effects. One of the most intimidating long-term effects of teen drug use is a permanent decrease in IQ. Especially with marijuana, abuse of drugs and alcohol in teen years irreversibly damage the brains ability to communicate between different parts. Also, studies have shown that using drugs and alcohol before the age of 16 significantly impairs cognitive flexibility (the ability to change thinking based on context) for the remainder of one’s life. Finally, research has shown that the use of drugs and alcohol in adolescents affects the productivity of stress hormones, causing them to permanently have trouble dealing with stressful situations. The inability to cope with stressful situations may lead to more substance abuse, depression, and anxiety.