Drug Effects on Developing Brains - Teens | Sandstone Care (2023)

  • Effects of Drugs on Adolescent Brain Development
  • Effects of Drugs on Adolescent Brain Development
  • Why is Brain Development Crucial During the Teen Years?
  • What is Normal Brain Function For Teenagers?
  • Why Are Young People More At Risk For Brain Damage From Substance Abuse?
  • How Do Drugs Affect Brain Function?
  • What are the Cognitive Effects of Drug Use in Teens and Young Adults?
  • How Can The Brain Recover From Damage Due to Drug Use?
  • How Does Healing the Brain Impact Short and Long Term Recovery?
  • How To Get Help For Substance Abuse?

Effects of Drugs on Adolescent Brain Development

Drug Effects on Developing Brains - Teens | Sandstone Care (1)

Effects of drugs on developing brains

The human brain is amazingly complex. Researchers have studied it for centuries, but they still don’t fully understand how it works. One aspect of the brain’s complexity is the way it develops.

From the moment a child is conceived, the brain begins to grow, becoming more and more complex with time.The full development of the brain takes years. In fact, our brains don’t stop developing until we reach our mid-twenties.

Because of the brain’s complexity and its primary role in a young person’s wellbeing, it’s important for them to get enough sleep, eat nutritious food and receive medical attention for any kind of potential trauma, such as a head injury.

It’s also crucial for young people to avoid substance abuse – drugs and alcohol dramatically impede the brain’s development and can cause long-term damage. In some cases, the effects are irreversible.

(Video) The drug-like effect of screen time on the teenage brain

Why is Brain Development Crucial During the Teen Years?

Adolescence is a critical stage of brain development. During these years, teens’ personalities are emerging – they are effectively growing into who they will be for the rest of their lives. Teens are also learning many new skills and developing the capacities they need to become well-adjusted, responsible adults.

Teenage brains are more adaptable to all types of experiences, and it’s easier for them to learn new things at this stage than it will be for them as adults. But this also makes them more driven to try mind-altering substances – and more vulnerable to sustaining harm as a result.

What is Normal Brain Function For Teenagers?

One aspect of a healthy brain’s complexity is its delicate balance of chemicals that keep the body and mind functioning normally. These chemicals are called neurotransmitters, and they carry messages between nerve cells and neurons, or nerve endings.

Everything a person thinks and feels – including their mood, energy level, consciousness, memory, ability to feel pleasure and need for food and rest – is affected by neurotransmitters, so it’s important to keep your child’s brain healthy as they grow.

Some examples of neurotransmitters are:

  • Glutamate,which affects your memory and thinking abilities.
  • Dopamine,which is responsible for your feelings of pleasure and reward. When you laugh or feel good, that’s your dopamine at work.
  • Serotonin,which helps you sleep, and also affects your appetite, arousal level and mood.
  • Norepinephrine/ noradrenaline,which helps you deal with stress.
  • Epinephrine/ adrenaline,which interacts with norepinephrine/ noradrenaline, also helping you deal with stress.
  • Oxytocin,which helps you relax, socially bond and maintain a reproductive drive.
  • Endorphins,which reduce your feelings of pain and stress.

Overall, these chemicals help you stay healthy and have feelings that are appropriate for whatever experiences you’re exposed to. When you’re in danger, your brain should make you feel scared, and give you a burst of energy – the “fight or flight” response.

When you’re with friends, your brain chemicals should help you feel a sense of relaxation and trust. When your body needs food, your brain should make you feel hungry. And when your body needs rest, your brain should help you feel tired and ready to go to sleep.

Overall, these brain chemicals are designed to help you take care of yourself – to eat right, sleep right and form social connections. Your brain chemicals, when working correctly, provide you with motivation to do the things required for your survival and happiness.

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(Video) How Marijuana Affects the Adolescent Brain: New University of Maryland School of Medicine Research

Why Are Young People More At Risk For Brain Damage From Substance Abuse?

The human brain is made up of cells called neurons. These cells are protected by a substance called myelin, which acts as a sort of insulator to the messages that come to your brain. The older you are, the more “insulated” you are from brain messages – that is, the better you’re able to handle them.

But in teens, the protective properties of myelin haven’t been fully developed, so they receive more intense messages. When teens experience pleasure, that sensation is more intense in their brain than in the brain of an adult. Conversely, when teens feel sadness, it’s also experienced more intensely.

And because of the myelin level of the teen brain, drugs have more intense effects on teens than they do on adults. So when they use substances like marijuana, opioids or amphetamines, their brains’ reward systems are triggered more powerfully – which also puts teens at greater risk for addiction.

How Do Drugs Affect Brain Function?

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As your teen’s brain develops, drugs can damage the way they process their experiences, both in the short- and long-term. The specific effect depends on the type of drug being used. There are three main categories of drugs, each with a different set of effects on the brain:

  • Stimulantscause adolescents’ brains and the rest of their nervous system to become excited and function unnaturally fast. When young people use stimulants, their brains produce an unnatural amount of energy, causing their heart to race, their body temperature to rise and their breathing to speed up.
  • Depressantscause teens’ brains and the rest of their nervous systems to slow down. When someone uses depressants, their energy level decreases, their breathing and heart rate slow down and their body temperature lowers.
  • Hallucinogensaffect the brain’s perception of reality. Teenagers who use hallucinogens can have delusional thoughts, and they see, hear, feel and taste things that aren’t really there.

One reason these drugs cause these problems for the brain is their effect on neurotransmitters, or the chemicals that carry messages between the brain and the rest of the body. When a young person uses drugs, their delicate balance of neurotransmitters is lost, and the reward pathways of the brain are altered.

For example, many drugs unnaturally deplete the brain’s production of dopamine, serotonin and endorphins (the chemicals that produce happiness and pleasure). As a result, drugs cause the brain to reward the person for taking drugs – and not for healthy eating, sleeping, healthy social interaction and other vital aspects of life.

If these reward pathways of the brain continue to be altered due to repeated drug use, effects on a young person’s wellbeing can be overwhelming and long-lasting.

Drugs can also permanently change the brain’s prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain helps you think ahead, make smart decisions, interact with others in healthy ways and control yourself. When a teen uses certain drugs, their brain will fail to develop properly in these areas.

What are the Cognitive Effects of Drug Use in Teens and Young Adults?

(Video) How do drugs affect the brain? - Sara Garofalo

Drug Effects on Developing Brains - Teens | Sandstone Care (4)

As teens use drugs, they generally lose abilities in several critical areas of brain development, including the following:

  • The ability to control their impulses
  • The ability to experience pleasure and reward
  • Sensory perception
  • Emotional development
  • Decision-making skills
  • The ability to plan or think ahead
  • The ability to complete tasks
  • Memory
  • Learning new things

The longer drug use continues, the higher the risk will be of these traits continuing for a lifetime. The permanent results of repeated drug use can be as follows:

  • Lower IQ
  • Permanent loss of memory
  • Lower speed of processing information
  • Loss of coordination
  • Slower reaction time
  • High risk of dependency and addiction
  • Additional mental health disorders

How Can The Brain Recover From Damage Due to Drug Use?

Drug Effects on Developing Brains - Teens | Sandstone Care (5)

If your teen’s brain is affected long-term because of repeated drug use, they may have a hard time solving problems. They will also struggle to remember things, and their emotional development will be impaired. They may also struggle with motivation, and could even become disruptive and violent.

If drug use continues, they’ll face a higher risk of encountering challenges in school, like difficulties with paying attention, struggles with grades and social problems. These issues could lead to lower test scores and the need to repeat classes.

Beyond school, the concerns resulting from impaired brain development could include your child’s ability to get a job, perform well, get into college and maintain healthy relationships. Long-term drug use is also associated with higher crime, risky sexual behavior and additional types of substance abuse.

(Video) How Does Alcohol Affect the Teen Brain?

A final long-term effect of drug use on the brain is the increased risk of mental health disorders. Young people who use drugs are more likely to have anxiety disorders, mood disorders such as depression and psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia.

How Does Healing the Brain Impact Short and Long Term Recovery?

Drug Effects on Developing Brains - Teens | Sandstone Care (6)

How To Get Help For Substance Abuse?

If you suspect that your teen is abusing drugs, it’s important to help them as soon as possible, because the risk of impaired brain development is too great. If they have developed dependence or addiction to drugs, it’s urgent that they get professional treatment as soon as possible.

At Sandstone, our caring, compassionate staff has experience helping countless teens get back on track. We provide a safe, nonjudgmental space for teens and their parents to open up about their problems – call us today at (888) 850-1890 to learn how we can help.

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Drug Effects on Developing Brains - Teens | Sandstone Care (8)

Let’s take the next steps together

We understand taking the first step is difficult. There is no shame or guilt in asking for help or more information. We are here to support you in any way we can.

(Video) The Teenage Brain and Addiction

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Drug Effects on Developing Brains - Teens | Sandstone Care? ›

If your teen's brain is affected long-term because of repeated drug use, they may have a hard time solving problems. They will also struggle to remember things, and their emotional development will be impaired. They may also struggle with motivation, and could even become disruptive and violent.

How does drug addiction affect the brain quizlet? ›

drugs of abuse: interrupt the balance between the neurotransmitters needed for normal brain functioning. they trick the brain reward system. the drugs turn on the brain reward system which releases dopamine and tricks the body into believing the drug is good for the body. soon tolerance and dependence develop.

At what age of development do negative experiences influence the developing brain? ›

These results support the idea that the lack of good quality experience has detrimental effects on brain function and that once the child is older than 2 years these effects tend to be worse.

What is adolescent brain especially vulnerable to the addictive effects of? ›

Because teenagers have an over-active impulse to seek pleasure and less ability to consider the consequences, they are especially vulnerable when it comes to nicotine, alcohol or drugs.

What are the problems of adolescence drugs? ›

Screening for Substance Use Disorders in Adolescents
  • Erratic behavior.
  • Depression or mood swings.
  • A change in friends.
  • Declining school performance.
  • Loss of interest in hobbies.

How does the brain react to addiction? ›

Drugs or alcohol can hijack the pleasure/reward circuits in your brain and hook you into wanting more and more. Addiction can also send your emotional danger-sensing circuits into overdrive, making you feel anxious and stressed when you're not using the drugs or alcohol.

Which of the following describes a way that drugs can affect the brain quizlet? ›

Which of the following describes a way that drugs can affect the brain? Drugs cause neurotransmitters to leak out of a synaptic vesicle into the axon terminal.

What are 3 negative factors that affects brain development? ›

Experiences such as poor nutrition, exposure to secondhand smoke, family stress, and child abuse or neglect can have profound long-term negative effects on the development of a child's brain.

What prevents our brains from developing well? ›

Toxic stress damages developing brain architecture, which can lead to lifelong problems in learning, behavior, and physical and mental health.

What age is most important for brain development? ›

Recent brain research indicates that birth to age three are the most important years in a child's development. Here are some tips to consider during your child's early years: Be warm, loving, and responsive. Talk, read, and sing to your child.

What affects adolescent brain development? ›

Other changes in the brain during adolescence include a rapid increase in the connections between the brain cells and making the brain pathways more effective. Nerve cells develop myelin, an insulating layer that helps cells communicate.

What are the issues of brain development which influence adolescent behavior? ›

Because the prefrontal cortex is still developing, teenagers might rely on a part of the brain called the amygdala to make decisions and solve problems more than adults do. The amygdala is associated with emotions, impulses, aggression and instinctive behaviour.

What fact about brain development during adolescence explain their risk taking impulsivity? ›

In the adolescent brain, the frontal and prefrontal cortexes aren't accessed with the same rapidity as the adult brain, which is why adolescents can act more impulsively—the frontal and prefrontal cortex house important executive functions like judgment and decision-making.

What are two negative effects of adolescent substance use on brain development? ›

Mental health problems such as depression, developmental lags, apathy, withdrawal, and other psychosocial dysfunctions frequently are linked to substance abuse among adolescents.

What are the two biggest risk factors for adolescent drug use? ›

Risk factors for youth high-risk substance use can include:
  • Family history of substance use.
  • Favorable parental attitudes towards the behavior.
  • Poor parental monitoring.
  • Parental substance use.
  • Family rejection of sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Association with delinquent or substance using peers.

What is the difference between addict mind and clean mind? ›

While addict mind includes thoughts, beliefs, and actions that occur under the influence, clean mind is a self-deceiving sense of immunity to relapse that can arise during a period of sobriety.

How do you break an addiction to someone? ›

Tips on How to Break an Addiction to a Person
  1. Figure Out Your Addictive Relationship. ...
  2. Detach Yourself from an Unhealthy Bond. ...
  3. Surround Yourself with Positive People. ...
  4. Welcome Your Independence. ...
  5. Learn to Set Boundaries in Relationships and Friendships. ...
  6. Pay Attention to Yourself. ...
  7. People You Should Avoid.
Aug 17, 2021

How do you reset dopamine levels? ›

Things You Can Do to Reset Your Brain's Dopamine Levels
  1. Create exciting daily routines. Incorporate fun activities into your daily routine, even if they are mindless activities. ...
  2. Focus on perfecting your sleep schedule. ...
  3. Improve your diet. ...
  4. Exercise. ...
  5. Practice mindfulness. ...
  6. Listen to music.
Apr 24, 2022

What type of brain injury can you get from drugs? ›

traumatic brain injuries, headaches, a range of persistent neurological and cognitive complications, and brain changes, including loss of gray matter, reduced hippocampal volume, and enlarged cerebral ventricles (the network that connects areas of your brain) may occur as a result of chronic substance abuse.

What drugs affect the brain and alter consciousness and perception? ›

LSD, PCP, Ketamine, and Hallucinogens

A class of drugs that leads to distortions of reality and perceptions, hallucinogens are typically broken down into two main categories: classic hallucinogens (LSD, peyote, psilocybin, DMT, Ayahuasca) and dissociative drugs (PCP, salvia, DXM, ketamine), per NIDA.

How dopamine acts on the brain in addiction? ›

When the drug user takes a drug of choice to achieve the pleasurable feeling being sought, the dopamine chemical is released. When the brain gets over-stimulated with a certain drug, it releases dopamine, which produces a euphoric effect that rewards and reinforces the drug user's behavior.

What is the most damaging to the brain? ›

Many habits contribute to poor brain health, but four areas can have the most influence. They are too much sitting, lack of socializing, inadequate sleep, and chronic stress.

How can I improve my child's brain development? ›

Here are ideas to encourage brain development:
  1. Play. Play is a wonderful way to help a baby or toddler's brain develop. Play might be a game, talking or singing to actively engage your child's brain. ...
  2. Comfort. Babies can feel stress. ...
  3. Read. Reading is one of the best ways to promote a child's brain development.

What can most impair a child's brain development? ›

Negative experiences such as abuse and neglect can affect the brain's architecture by increasing stress-related disorders including: mental health problems. drug abuse. diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

What makes the brain grow stronger? ›

When you learn new things, these tiny connections in the brain actually multiply and get stronger. The more that you challenge your mind to learn, the more your brain cells grow. Then, things that you once found very hard or even impossible to do—like speaking a foreign language or doing algebra—seem to become easy.

What disrupts brain development? ›

Healthy development can be derailed by excessive or prolonged activation of stress response systems in the body and the brain.

What strengthens the brain? ›

Any mentally stimulating activity should help to build up your brain. Read, take courses, try "mental gymnastics," such as word puzzles or math problems Experiment with things that require manual dexterity as well as mental effort, such as drawing, painting, and other crafts.

At what age is 90% of the brain developed? ›

At birth, the average baby's brain is about a quarter of the size of the average adult brain. Incredibly, it doubles in size in the first year. It keeps growing to about 80% of adult size by age 3 and 90% – nearly full grown – by age 5. The brain is the command center of the human body.

At what age is a child fully developed? ›

Under most laws, young people are recognized as adults at age 18. But emerging science about brain development suggests that most people don't reach full maturity until the age 25.

What is happening to the brain at age 16? ›

By age 16, most teens are starting to think in abstract ways. They can deal with several concepts at the same time and imagine the future consequences of their actions. This type of thinking continues to develop into adulthood.

What are two major changes in brain structure in adolescence? ›

In adolescence, a fundamental reorganization of the brain takes place that continues into the beginning of the third decade of life. Adolescent brain development is characterized by an imbalance between the limbic and reward systems, which mature earlier, and the not yet fully mature prefrontal control system.

What are 3 challenges experienced by an adolescent during mental development? ›

In particular, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders are common during adolescence. Adolescents who have anxiety or mood disorders may have physical symptoms such as fatigue.

Which part of the brain is activated during puberty causing more risk taking behavior? ›

Notes: The nucleus accumbens and amygdala are the two most prominent parts of the central nervous system involved in riskier behavior and increased sex drive among teenage adolescents.

What is the most common mind altering substance used during adolescence? ›

Alcohol use is common and is the substance most often used by adolescents.

What are addictive behaviors in adolescence? ›

These behaviors include alcohol and drug use, unsafe sex, poor diet choices, and even delinquent acts characterized by peer influence and heightened risk-taking (Balogh, Mayes, & Potenza, 2013; Salam et al., 2016).

What are 3 risk factors of drug abuse? ›

Risk factors
  • Family history of addiction. Drug addiction is more common in some families and likely involves an increased risk based on genes. ...
  • Mental health disorder. ...
  • Peer pressure. ...
  • Lack of family involvement. ...
  • Early use. ...
  • Taking a highly addictive drug.

What are the problems of adolescent drug use? ›

Substance use also interferes with adolescent brain development in a dose-dependent fashion. Regular use of alcohol, cannabis (marijuana), nicotine, or other drugs during adolescence is associated with higher rates of mental health disorders, poorer functioning in adulthood, and higher rates of addiction.

What are three health risks and two other risks that drug abusers face *? ›

People with addiction often have one or more associated health issues, which could include lung or heart disease, stroke, cancer, or mental health conditions. Imaging scans, chest X-rays, and blood tests can show the damaging effects of long-term drug use throughout the body.

Do addictive drugs share a common effect on the brain? ›

Most drugs affect the brain's reward circuit by flooding it with the chemical messenger dopamine. Surges of dopamine in the reward circuit cause the reinforcement of pleasurable but unhealthy activities, leading people to repeat the behavior again and again.

How do drugs impact the functioning of the brain Wikipedia? ›

It has been shown that drugs alter the way our brains function, and its structure. Cognitive functions such as learning, memory, and impulse control, are affected by drugs. These effects promote drug use, as well as hinder the ability to abstain from it.

How do drugs affect the body quizlet? ›

They affect the mind and body by altering brain chemistry. The effect of a drug depends on the properties of the drug and how it is used (drug factors), the physical and psychological characteristics of the user (user factors), and the physical and social environment surrounding the drug use (social Factors).

How do psychoactive drugs affect the brain quizlet? ›

Psychoactive drugs affect the brain by typically creating a pleasurable feeling that the user wants to repeat. Many psychoactive drugs trigger activity along the pathway of cells in the brain called the "reward pathway." The chemical release is a chemical called dopamine.

What drugs affect the central nervous system? ›

What are prescription CNS depressants?
  • diazepam (Valium®)
  • clonazepam (Klonopin®)
  • alprazolam (Xanax®)
  • triazolam (Halcion®)
  • estazolam (Prosom®)
Mar 6, 2018

What does your brain do? ›

The brain works like a big computer. It processes information that it receives from the senses and body, and sends messages back to the body. But the brain can do much more than a machine can: humans think and experience emotions with their brain, and it is the root of human intelligence.

What are the challenges of drug delivery to brain? ›

A major obstacle in drug delivery to the brain is the blood-brain barrier (BBB), a highly selective and semi-permeable network of endothelial cells (1,2) and blood vessels which act together to prevent the non-selective crossing of solutes from the blood extracellular fluid (1) in the central nervous system (CNS).

How do genes affect the brain? ›

These genes influence the development and function of the brain, and ultimately control how we move, think, feel, and behave. Combined with the effects of our environment, changes in these genes can also determine whether we are at risk for a particular disease and if we are, the course it might follow.

How does the brain build tolerance to drugs? ›

Tolerance happens through changes at the cellular level. It's the result of the brain restoring balance after it's repeatedly overstimulated by a drug. As balance is restored, neurons, synapses, and entire brain regions start to work differently. The brain sets a new normal that includes effects of the drug.

How does the body affect the drug? ›

The drug affects chemicals and receptors within the brain, causing different effects depending on the type of drug. Your body then metabolises the drug or breaks it down into simpler molecules (known as metabolites) which can be more easily eliminated. Sometimes these metabolites can also affect your body.

What do the effects of drugs depend on? ›

Drug effects may depend on a number of pharmacokinetic factors, such as dose, route of administration, volume of distribution, half-life, clearance, and metabolic pathways.

How do psychiatric drugs affect the brain? ›

Psychoactive drugs are drugs that affect the Central Nervous System, altering its regular activity. They cause changes in a person's mood, behavior, and awareness (like time and space). Psychoactive drugs are usually broken down into four categories: depressants, stimulants, opioids, and hallucinogens.

Which of the following neurotransmitters help to cope with pain and stress? ›

Endorphins help relieve pain, reduce stress and improve your sense of well-being. Endorphins are created in your pituitary gland and hypothalamus, both located in the brain. Endorphins are a type of neurotransmitter, or messenger in your body.

Which is the term for unwanted physical and mental effects caused by a drug? ›

A side effect is an unwanted physical or mental effect caused by a drug.


1. Mechanism of Drug Addiction in the Brain, Animation.
(Alila Medical Media)
2. Teen Health: Substance Use and Abuse
(Penn State PRO Wellness)
3. What does alcohol abuse do to a teenager's brain?
(Recovery Brands)
4. Vaping, Marijuana, and the Effects on the Adolescent Brain with Dr. Ruth Potee
(1623 Studios)
5. Addiction & the Brain - For Kids!
(Addiction Policy Forum)
6. Consequences for kids' of endless screen time
(ABC News)


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