By the time they are seniors, almost 70 percent of high school students will have tried alcohol, half will introduction of a research paper about drugs taken an illegal drug, nearly 40 percent will have smoked a cigarette, and more than 20 percent will have used a prescription drug for a nonmedical purpose. Many factors influence whether an adolescent tries drugs, including the availability of drugs within the neighborhood, community, and school and whether the adolescent’s friends are using them. The family environment is also important: Violence, physical or emotional abuse, mental illness, or drug use in the household increase the likelihood an adolescent will use drugs.
The image depicts top and side views of the developing brain, indicating that the brain continues to develop until early adulthood. The prefrontal cortex is the last area of the brain to mature. The parts of the brain that process feelings of reward and pain—crucial drivers of drug use—are the first to mature during childhood. What remains incompletely developed during the teen years are the prefrontal cortex and its connections to other brain regions.
Teenagers are highly motivated to pursue pleasurable rewards and avoid pain, but their judgment and decision-making skills are still limited. This affects their ability to weigh risks accurately and make sound decisions, including decisions about using drugs. How drug use can progress to addiction. Different drugs affect the brain differently, but a common factor is that they all raise the level of the chemical dopamine in brain circuits that control reward and pleasure. The brain is wired to encourage life-sustaining and healthy activities through the release of dopamine. Everyday rewards during adolescence—such as hanging out with friends, listening to music, playing sports, and all the other highly motivating experiences for teenagers—cause the release of this chemical in moderate amounts. This reinforces behaviors that contribute to learning, health, well-being, and the strengthening of social bonds.
Despite popular belief, willpower alone is often insufficient to overcome an addiction. Drugs, unfortunately, are able to hijack this process. This creates an especially strong drive to repeat the experience. The immature brain, already struggling with balancing impulse and self-control, is more likely to take drugs again without adequately considering the consequences. The development of addiction is like a vicious cycle: Chronic drug use not only realigns a person’s priorities but also may alter key brain areas necessary for judgment and self-control, further reducing the individual’s ability to control or stop their drug use. This is why, despite popular belief, willpower alone is often insufficient to overcome an addiction. This bar graph depicts how adolescents differ from adults in substances most abused.
With data collected from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the graph illustrates that 42. Not all young people are equally at risk for developing an addiction. Various factors including inherited genetic predispositions and adverse experiences in early life make trying drugs and developing a substance use disorder more likely. Drug use at an early age is an important predictor of development of a substance use disorder later.
The majority of those who have a substance use disorder started using before age 18 and developed their disorder by age 20. 7 The likelihood of developing a substance use disorder is greatest for those who begin use in their early teens. When substance use disorders occur in adolescence, they affect key developmental and social transitions, and they can interfere with normal brain maturation. These potentially lifelong consequences make addressing adolescent drug use an urgent matter.
Chronic marijuana use in adolescence, for example, has been shown to lead to a loss of IQ that is not recovered even if the individual quits using in adulthood. The serious health risks of drugs compound the need to get an adolescent who is abusing drugs into treatment as quickly as possible. Also, adolescents who are abusing drugs are likely to have other issues such as mental health problems accompanying and possibly contributing to their substance use, and these also need to be addressed. Adolescents in treatment report abusing different substances than adult patients do. Adolescents also may be less likely than adults to feel they need help or to seek treatment on their own. Only 10 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds needing substance abuse treatment actually receive any services. 16 When they do get treatment, it is often for different reasons than adults.
Many treatment approaches are available to address the unique needs of adolescents. Whether delivered in residential or inpatient settings or offered on an outpatient basis, effective treatments for adolescents primarily consist of some form of behavioral therapy. Addiction medications, while effective and widely prescribed for adults, are not generally approved by the U. It requires taking into account the needs of the whole person—including his or her developmental stage and cognitive abilities and the influence of family, friends, and others in the person’s life, as well as any additional mental or physical health conditions.
Such issues should be addressed at the same time as the substance use treatment. Supporting Ongoing Recovery—Sustaining Treatment Gains and Preventing Relapse. Enlisting and engaging the adolescent in treatment is only part of a sometimes long and complex recovery process. 17 Indeed, treatment is often seen as part of a continuum of care. When substance use disorders are identified and treated in adolescence—especially if they are mild or moderate—they frequently give way to abstinence from drugs with no further problems.