How Substance Abuse Affects Teens and Young Adults

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Despite how many parents feel, experimentation with drugs and alcohol is not “just a phase.” Teens using such substances are in danger of so much more than a poor high school experience. Casual experimentation can quickly escalate to a substance use disorder. The incredibly pervasive and detrimental effects from substance abuse may continue far past graduation and affect a teens whole life if not handled properly. Substance use disorders negatively affect a teen’s environment, mental health, physical health, and safety.

Environmental and Mental Health Effects

Studies show that 33% of teens experience problems at home, school, work or in the community stemming from substance abuse. At home teens can face conflict with parents or siblings, which can eventually result in a lack of trust. At school, substance use disorders negatively impact performance in and out of the classroom, contributing to poor grades and excessive absences. This often leads to failure to progress into the next grade level or graduate. Teens can face problems in the community when engaging in legal issues or are stigmatized, affecting the teens mental state.

Teens who abuse drugs and alcohol historically demonstrate higher rates of mental health issues including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. About 30% of adolescent suicides are attributed to depression, aggravated by drug or alcohol abuse. Research also shows that heavy marijuana users are more likely than non-users to be diagnosed with schizophrenia later in life.

Physical Effects and Problems of Safety

Physically, the brain and body are still developing during the adolescent years. Substance use slows the development of the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for decision making. This can lead to increased impulsivity and poor decision making skills. Research shows that adults who began smoking marijuana during their adolescent years lost an average of 8 IQ points between the ages of 13 and 38 years old.

Substance abuse has a negative impact on all aspects of an adolescent’s life. It’s important that as a society we stop brushing substance abuse off as “just a phase” and start taking it more seriously. If you are noticing signs of substance abuse or substance dependence in your child, contact your local Rehab After Work and schedule an intake appointment with a substance abuse clinician.