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Increases in Substance Use Poses Additional Risks To Developing Brains Of Young People Under 25

The years between adolescence and 25 are the most challenging ever. Young people are vulnerable, but curious. They face exciting challenges and difficult hurdles. These years produce great emotional highs, and at times devastating lows. So how do young people make it—some turn to alcohol or drugs! Kids from intact families with strong values and limits tend to survive these years fairly intact, even with some experimenting with alcohol or drugs. On the other hand, kids from broken or dysfunctional homes, where alcohol, drugs and fights are the norm, they’re left with few coping skills, often feeling alone and afraid. These kids often self-medicate with alcohol or drugs, and many start using marijuana as early as middle school. Later they may sneak prescription medications from an adult, or alcohol from a parent’s bar. Many young people use substances to drown out the pain of abuse, fights, or loneliness, or because they are shy or socially awkward, and some believe drugs and alcohol makes them more mature and they’ll be more popular—peer pressure is huge!

Research shows that when medicinal or recreational marijuana becomes legal by state, the use of marijuana by young people grows exponentially—maybe because it’s thought to be medicine, or perhaps because the more dangerous effects of early marijuana use tends to be minimized in the press. However, in recent years, more and more young people are choosing heroin—it’s cheaper, faster, purer, and more readily available than ever. Heroin use has grown very quickly and many young people are addicted, with an average age of 23. Today more young people die of heroin overdoses than are killed in car accidents or by guns!

Another huge issue associated with early drug use is that drugs and alcohol change the brain! No matter how long a young person uses drugs—smoking or ingesting marijuana, drinking alcohol, smoking or shooting heroin, or crack, or meth, or cocaine—all drug use interferes with the brain’s chemistry and many of these changes are permanent. And the younger the individual begins using drugs or alcohol, the more irreversible damage can occur, including diseases as devastating as schizophrenia.

In addition, drugs deplete the supply of dopamine and serotonin, the neurotransmitters responsible for happiness. So when a person uses drugs to mask depression, he or she is, in fact, increasing the likelihood of feeling depressed. Drug use decreases the release of the neurotransmitters that bring feelings of happiness. Lowered levels of dopamine and serotonin can also slow thinking, cause impairments in learning and memory, and tend to increase the incidence of depression and suicidality. Another important, but rarely discussed effect of early drug use is that substance abuse by high school students can stunt growth. Research shows that boys who smoked marijuana in their early teens were 4.6” shorter at age 20 than boys who waited until they were 21 to use alcohol or drugs.

No matter why a young person uses or abuses substances—peer pressure, to belong to the in-crowd, to mask depression, anxiety, or shyness, to self-medicate a painful home life—anyone can become addicted and addiction leads to losses—of friendships, college entrance, jobs, and the ultimate loss—their life, to suicide or overdose.


If you think you have a problem—a big problem or a little one, or you just want information or support—even if you aren’t ready to quit—call us anyway to arrange an intake interview. It doesn’t cost you anything—intakes are FREE, and group fees are on a sliding scale. Intensive Outpatient groups start Mondays and run three weeks, beginning April 3, 2017. Individual or private IOP are also available. Call Dr Liz Jelinek at 734-649-5273, for information and/or an intake interview.