Teen Health: Substance Use and Abuse


[understanding substance use and abuse]
misuse of substances like alcohol and drugs is a growing problem in the U.S.
and teens and young adults are most at risk with half of all new drug users
being under the age of 18 and one in five high school students having abused
prescription drugs. additionally, one-third of high school
students currently use alcohol, 23% use marijuana, and 22% use all forms of
tobacco combined. decision-making in teens involves a chemical called
dopamine in the brain’s reward center. dopamine helps transmit signals in the
brain that make people feel happy. the number of brain receptors interacting
with dopamine is higher in adolescents than at any other time of life. that
means that when a teen is exposed to a reward, such as a compliment, the reward
center reacts more strongly than it would for an adult. also, being with
friends increases the sensitivity to rewards and makes the already sensitive
reward system even more sensitive. feeling rewards more strongly and
responding more intensely to what peers may think means that there are
biological reasons for why teens sometimes decide to do things with their
friends that they would never do on their own.
this can be positive by encouraging friends to take on new challenges but it
can also lead to dangerous decisions such as drug and alcohol use. drug use
and abuse can contribute to harmful short and long-term health risks. in fact,
drug abuse can have long-term effects on a developing teenage brain. MRI scans of
the brain have shown that people who have been using drugs for a long time
have a smaller prefrontal cortex than people who have not been using drugs. the prefrontal cortex is the area where decision-making occurs. drug use can
result in poor grades, memory loss, and social problems. a lot of us have an idea
about what a person dependent on drugs looks like. however, anyone can suffer
from this type of addiction. addiction doesn’t depend on income, job,
race, or color. it is a disease of the brain that can happen to anyone.
drug dependency is when a person consumes alcohol or drugs regularly
despite the fact that it causes issues in their life and relationships with
others. get help if you need it. encourage your friends to get help too.
if you or someone you love is struggling with drug use or abuse call -800-662-HELP or visit www.easyread.drugabuse.gov

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