Five Things to Know About Adolescents' Brain Development and Use
Learn more about the particular ways that substance use threatens the still-developing adolescent brain.
FIVE THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT ADOLESCENTS' BRAIN DEVELOPMENT AND USE
- 1. The brain's "front end," the part above the eyes, exists to slow us down or stop our impulsive
behaviors. It considers the risks and benefits of our actions, and it helps us "hit the brakes" when we
consider doing things that are too risky.
- 2. This front part of the brain is still developing connections to the rest of the brain until adulthood, so
adolescents' brains lack some of the "wiring" that carries "brake" or "stop" messages to the rest of the
- 3. Drugs of abuse are often available to adolescents. These drugs feel good, but they can be very
harmful. Lacking some of the wiring for the "stop" message, adolescents' brains may not fully weigh
the risks of drug use.
- 4. The two drugs that cause the most death are also the most available drugs: tobacco and alcohol.
Late adolescence, before the brain is fully matured, is the peak time for developing dependence on
these (and other) drugs.
- 5. Heavy drug use during times of critical brain development may cause permanent changes in the way
the brain works and responds to rewards and consequences. Therefore, it is important to begin to
address a developing substance use problem as early as possible.
Concerning Behaviors to Look for in an Adolescent Who Might be Using Drugs
- Changes in school performance (falling grades, skipping school, tardiness)
- Changes in peer group (hanging out with drug-using, antisocial, older friends)
- Breaking rules at home, school, in the community
- Extreme mood swings, depression, irritability, anger, negative attitude
- Sudden increases or decreases in activity level
- Withdrawal from the family; keeping secrets
- Changes in physical appearance (weight loss, lack of cleanliness, strange smells)
- Red, watery, glassy eyes or runny nose not due to allergies or cold
- Changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Lack of motivation or interest in things other teenagers enjoy (hobbies, sports)
- Lying, stealing, hiding things
- Using street or drug language or possession of drug paraphernalia/items
- Cigarette smoking