Adolescents and Substance Abuse

The brain is a complex organ compromised of billions of cells. These cells are connected by synapses. They communicate when a neurotransmitter (chemical) is released into the synapse. It then binds to the neighboring cell which will either excite the cell or inhibits its function. For instance, the hypothalamus plays a role with emotion. The transmitter can either evoke pleasure or displeasure depending on the chemical released.

The brain does not reach full development until the mid-20’s. The adolescent brain is still developing the complex lines of communication. So, what happens when a developing brain is exposed to drugs or alcohol? Above I mentioned that one area in the brain can evoke pleasure or displeasure. Normally there is a balance between both: however, a young brain exposed to either drugs or alcohol can disrupt that balance. The brain may generate more reward transmitters or cells because the drugs are eliciting a response of reward to that individual. Hence the equilibrium is disrupted and now you have a brain looking for reward. Now it is more complicated than that, but you can understand the concept.

Survey done by (SAMSHA) substance abuse and mental health sciences reported that teens and adolescents believe marijuana is not risky. 77% of adolescents perceived no great risk smoking marijuana once a month. What message are we sending to our youth when more and more states legalize marijuana.

Dr. Rosenthal from Mt Sinai Hospital in New York states that using cannabis in the adolescent brain can lead to substance abuse and depression. In a 2014 survey of 12-17-year-old 74% smoked marijuana once a month. Those are staggering numbers.

Marijuana, drugs, alcohol caffeine and nicotine are all psychoactive substances. The affect they can have on the chemicals and pathways of a developing brain are frightening. They disrupt that equilibrium. The likelihood of addiction and psychiatric illness increase exponentially.

Parents educate your children about the risks. Make them understand the brain once damaged is very difficult to reverse. Schools need to have dedicated classes to educate adolescents on the dangers of addiction and psychiatric illness. The government must fund programs to educate and treat people with addiction. The only way to win the war is to attack it from all fronts.