Drug or alcohol addiction can certainly wreak havoc on the lives of teenagers and their loved ones. However, that mayhem is nothing compared to the devastation that takes place inside an addicted teen’s brain.
There is still quite a bit that scientists do not know about the human brain, but in recent years they have learned a great deal about how the brain develops and the detrimental effects that substance abuse can have on that process.
The Supercharged Infant Brain
Humans are born with an astounding 50 trillion neural connections in their brain, and that number expands twenty-fold in the first year of life to one quadrillion connections. Over time, some of these connections will be strengthened while others will be pruned and disappear.
This evolutionary process continues from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood. Because the brain is not usually fully developed until a person’s mid-20s, the introduction of the harmful chemicals found in drugs or alcohol during the teenage years can lead to lifelong problems.
Teen Brains Are Not Fully Grown
The last portions of the brain to mature are the frontal lobe and outer mantle, where the processes that control impulses and assess risk are formulated. Since these areas are still growing in a teen brain, he or she is more likely to succumb to impulses to experiment with alcohol or drugs while simultaneously underestimating the risks these substances carry with them.
A Corrupted Mental Messaging System
The chemicals in drugs and alcohol tend to retard the functions of the neurotransmitters, or the brain’s “messengers.” These substances cause the neurotransmitters to send abnormal messages across the teenager’s brain, which can have long-term effects on the individual’s problem-solving skills and intellectual development.
Perception Does Not Resemble Reality
Moreover, these psychoactive substances have a significant impact on adolescents’ abilities of perception. Of course, this altered perception is part of the reason why teens are attracted to drugs in the first place. Over time, the brain’s capacity for building these perception-related neurotransmitters can diminish, leaving adolescents with impaired capabilities to perform tasks like reading others’ facial expressions or reacting appropriately to various emotional stimuli.
Turning Wreckage Into Rewards
Arguably the most devastating effect of alcohol and drugs on adolescent mental development is the hijacking of the brain’s “reward system.” Drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine trigger a heavy release of dopamine (the “pleasure” neurotransmitter) into the brain which leads to the “high” that those struggling with addiction seek.
Once the brain becomes wired so that it associates drug use with a reward, it begins to view this behavior as a desirable activity (like eating or exercise, for example) that must be repeated in order for the body to flourish. Simultaneously, as drug use continues, the brain starts cutting back on the amount of dopamine it releases, thereby necessitating higher doses and/or more frequent substance use to achieve the same level of euphoria.
The result of a compromised neural reward system is twofold. First, the brain strengthens the drug use habit by encouraging the repetition of the delivery of the chemical into the body; second, the brain’s ability to produce dopamine decreases sharply, which leads to a depressive and lifeless state that can only be improved by continuously heightened levels of drug use.
Get Help Now
If left unchecked, teenage substance abuse can cause permanent brain damage and mental impairment which cannot be reversed, even if the person eventually becomes sober later in life. That is why it is essential for parents to take action to reverse this trend as soon as possible instead of ignoring the warning signs and making excuses for their child’s behavior.
In short, getting treatment for an addicted teen can give him or her a chance to avoid challenging mental deficiencies as an adult. The sooner you can get your teenager into treatment, the more likely that the life he or she can look forward to will not be plagued by legal troubles, career struggles, or wrecked interpersonal relationships with friends and family.
Do not put it off! If your teen is struggling with substance abuse, contact us today to discuss treatment options for your teen.
Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.