How Drugs Affect Teens

Changes in Brain Development and Function

Most kids grow dramatically during the adolescent and teen years. Their young brains particularly the prefrontal cortex that is used to make decisions, are growing and developing, until their mid-twenties.

Long term drug use causes brain changes that can set people up for addiction and other problems. Once a young person becomes addicted, their brain becomes altered so that drugs are now their top priority. They will compulsively seek and use drugs even though doing so brings devastating consequences to their lives and for those who care about them.

Alcohol can interfere with some of the developmental processes occurring in the brain. For weeks or months after a teen stops drinking heavily, parts of the brain still struggle to work correctly. Drinking at a young age is also associated with the development of alcohol dependence later in life.

FACT: Long term drug abuse impairs brain functioning. (National Institute of Drug Abuse)
For specific effects of a drug, see “DRUGS

What is Addiction?

No one plans to become addicted to a drug. Instead, it begins with a single use, which can lead to abuse, which can lead to addiction.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines addiction as:

A chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. Addiction is a brain disease because drugs change the brain’s structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long lasting, and lead to harmful behaviors seen in people who abuse drugs.

The good news is that addiction is a treatable disease. The treatment approach to substance abuse depends on several factors, including a child’s temperment and willingness to change. It may take several attempts at treatment before a child remains drug free. For more information on addiction go to the National Institute of Drug Abuse’s Website (

Treatment and Recovery

The first step when you suspect your child has a substance abuse problem is to have your child assessed by a certified substance abuse counselor or an addiction specialist.

Once a diagnosis is made the child will be referred for treatment, which helps people stop using the drugs they’re addicted to.

Research shows that to ensure success for most patients treatment should combine treatment medications, where available, with behavioral therapy.

Information on 11,000 addiction treatment programs including residential treatment centers, outpatient treatment programs, and hospital inpatient programs is available at: or 1-800-662-4357

Recovery is when a person quits taking drugs and starts learning how to live life without drugs.

Characteristics of substance abuse addiction and recovery include:

  • It is typically a chronic disease.
  • Stopping to using drugs for a few days does not guarantee being cured.
  • Relapse is common.
  • Patients require long-term or repeated episodes of care to get long term abstinence and recovery.
  • Relapse prevention services may increase the success of long-term recovery.

A person can recover from drug addiction, but they must be aware of their addiction and work on not using again. Persons who are treated for a substance abuse problem or addiction will have a life of recovery.