Adolescence is a critical developmental phase when one undergoes a number of internal and external changes that affect one’s physical and mental development and health. Any kind of experimentation, particularly related to substances, run the risk of turning into a habit that can make or break a person’s future. Moreover, any major traumatic or life-changing experience can greatly derail one’s natural course of growth and even push one toward drug use as a mean to cope with abrupt and debilitating changes. Therefore, it is essential to ensure effective prevention measures to enable one to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
It is now a well-established fact that people are at an increased risk of falling into the vicious cycle of abuse, particularly during their adolescence. Although a person’s propensity to use drugs is more marked during the early development stages of adolescence, it can linger till the early adulthood (age 25), when the rational part of a teen’s brain gets fully matured.
One of the primary reasons behind the increased chances of developing an addiction in adolescence is the way brain function in teenagers. While adults think with the prefrontal cortex that is responsible for responding to situations with good judgment, adolescents take decisions with the emotional part of the brain known as the amygdala. Teenagers are still on the verge of developing a connection between the emotional and decision-making portions of the brain.
The early introduction to drug use significantly increases a person’s chances of developing an addiction in the future. It also causes the brain to artificially produce large amounts of dopamine, which is a chemical that is released in the brain when a person is rewarded.
When the level of dopamine continues to increase due to frequent drug use, the brain naturally cuts down its own dopamine production to compensate for the surplus. Substantial research suggests that the changes brought on by drug abuse during adolescence have far greater negative mental and physical consequences than in any other developmental stage.
Reasons that spur drug abuse among adolescents
Teenagers can develop an addiction due to various factors such as a sudden change in their environment or due to other external and biological reasons. Sometimes moving to a new location or changing schools, transitioning from elementary to middle school, etc., can prove to be difficult for teenagers. Moreover, peer pressure, especially during high school years, and the easy access to drugs may push susceptible teenagers toward experimenting with drugs or other illicit substances.
All this is also because adolescents display a unique set of behavioral traits that is associated with risk taking, discovering oneself and forging new ties with peers. This leaves many teenagers open to drug use, especially if they have drug-abusing friends. In addition, many teenagers may not fully understand the magnitude of the problem, such as long-term consequences and the true nature of drugs, when abusing them or trying them. Often they are unaware that even one-time use can prove disastrous.
Besides, it has been found that some may believe that taking drugs may improve their athletic performance or allow them to maneuver through anxiety-triggering social situations. Some take drugs to lose weight, enhance academic performance and boost concentration. It could also happen that teens start taking medicines whether after consulting a doctor or not to treat sports injuries and later get addicted to them.
However, drug use, whether deliberate or uninformed, disrupts the brain regions associated with motivation, memory, learning, judgment and behavior control. Moreover, teens abusing drugs are more likely to have social and family problems, suffer academically, experience more physical and mental health related problems, and run into trouble with the law-enforcement agencies.
That is why “prevention is better than cure.” It is essential to stop adolescents from experimenting with drugs by spreading awareness, preventing drug abuse, etc. One must ensure that these youngsters contribute positively to the economy and society and live long healthy lives by avoiding drugs.
Assess risks before abusing drugs
Drug abuse is a major public health concern, especially in the United States. In the wake of a sharp rise in prescription drug addiction in the country, the problem of drug abuse extends beyond just adults with chronic pain. In fact, even children and teens are taking prescription drugs due to the misconception that such drugs are safe. To prevent the aggravation of the problems associated with drug abuse, it is advisable to seek early intervention.