Brain Development and Adolescence – Preventing & Treating the Effects of Substance Abuse
Some researchers believe that addiction is more or less a form of learning – that is, it can have a profound effect on the immature adolescent brain. There is a reason why teenagers seem more impulsive by nature – the part of their brain that helps control and regulates impulses is not yet fully developed.
In fact, teens and young adults tend to become addicted to substances faster than older adults. Drugs and alcohol hijack the normal processing functions of the brain, and can also alter brain structure, as well. Such changes can result in negative, lifelong consequences.
According to neuroscientists, the human brain is not fully developed until about age 25. And current research suggests that the maturing brain may be extremely vulnerable to both short- and long-term drug abuse. Simply put, substance use during adolescence greatly increases the risk of developing a substance use disorder as an adult.
Research such as this allows physicians, scientists, and healthcare professionals to improve understanding why teens are especially vulnerable to alcohol and drug abuse, smoking, and even Internet and gaming addictions.
There is no question that these habits align well with a mind that has not yet fully developed impulse control. This is one reason why teenagers and young adults often make risky and unhealthy decision.
You see, teenagers are particularly vulnerable to the effects of certain behaviors. But fortunately, this knowledge may be used by researchers to develop better prevention strategies
Past studies have provided information that suggests these findings are correct. For example, chronic marijuana users between 13-17 years of age consistently reveal having a decreased verbal IQ. Also, MRI scans show differences in function between marijuana and non-marijuana users when completing certain tasks. These findings reflect permanent brain changes caused by the use of marijuana.
Certainly, we all know that marijuana is by far one of the least harmful psychoactive substances regularly used by humans. However, it is still very capable of breaching the fragile time during brain development and adolescence.
It is critically important that families, addiction professionals, and educators understand the unique needs of teens – to both prevent and treat existing addiction.
Also, teens may be encouraged to make healthy choices if they understand how they are developing and how substance use may affect them at this age. That is, by encouraging teenagers to understand their biological development and feelings, they will be more equipped to deal with relationships and make healthy decisions.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology