Why One Choice? The teen brain is uniquely vulnerable to substance use

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Substance use can alter teen brain development and potentially prime the brain for substance abuse disorders as an adult.

In these MRI images, areas of green, yellow, red, and blue are still undergoing significant development into the early 20s. Only the small areas of purple are fully mature.


Why One Choice? All Substance Use is Related

Youth prevention efforts often focus on one specific substance -avoiding marijuana, avoiding cigarettes, avoiding alcohol, etc. But recent research shows that the use of all of these substances is related, and that if teens use any one substance, they are much more likely to use others. The One Choice message is therefore not substance-specific, and instead promotes a daily health choice of no use of any substances.

Source: DuPont, R. L., Han, B., Shea, C. L., & Madras, B. K. (2018). Drug use among youth: national survey data support a common liability of all drug use. Preventive Medicine, 113, 68-73.

Source: DuPont, R. L., Han, B., Shea, C. L., & Madras, B. K. (2018). Drug use among youth: national survey data support a common liability of all drug use. Preventive Medicine, 113, 68-73.


Why One Choice? It is a Myth that all teens experiment with substance use

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Parents, teachers, and even prevention programs often mistakenly believe that teen experimentation is inevitable, and therefore consider some level of “reasonable” substance use to be acceptable.

And teens themselves are often under the impression that their peers are all trying drugs, and that not using is not a “popular” choice.

In fact, as shown in this graph, there has been a steady, forty-year trend of non-use by teens throughout their high school years.

Teens and adults need to know that not only is the One Choice of no use a realistic goal, but that many teens are in fact making that choice, and in ever-increasing numbers.

Why One Choice? Reducing Adult Addiction must Begin with Youth Prevention

The United States is confronting a public health crisis of rising adult drug addiction. The most visible results of this crisis are the swelling numbers of deaths attributed to opioids, but it is also happening in the context of a swelling national interest in legalizing drugs - particularly marijuana - for recreational and/or medical use, as well as heavy investment and marketing by businesses and new, dangerous delivery options like vaping devices.

90% of adults with substance use disorders began using one or more drugs like alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana before the age of eighteen. A key reason for this is the unique vulnerability of the still-developing teen brain to substance use, and the resulting potential to prime the brain for substance use disorders as an adult.

The earlier substance use is initiated, the more likely an individual is to develop addiction. And therefore the One Choice message - focused on preventing or delaying all adolescent substance use - can have a direct impact over time on the number of adults who have a substance use disorder.

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One Choice is an initiative of the Institute for Behavior and Health. Consider making a tax-deductible donation today to support our efforts to prevent teen drug use and reduce the prevalence of addiction.

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Featured News


Alex Berenson recently discussed his new book Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence at a presentation co-sponsored by IBH at the Heritage Foundation. View the video here.

We cannot let e-cigarettes become an on-ramp for teenage addiction

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and FDA Commisioner Scott Gottlieb recently issued a national wake-up call via an op-ed in the Washington Post, calling the terrifying recent spike in e-cigarrette use by teens “an epidemic” and emphasizing one of the key messages of the One Choice initiative: that the surge “is alarming because nicotine is highly addictive and can harm brain development, which continues into young adulthood.” Read more.

Parents and student peers can help prevent high school opioid use

In a column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Richard Lord draws on national drug abuse experts to explore ways parents and students can help prevent teen drug use, and calls attention to the One Choice initiative. Read more.

negative long-term effects of heavy Marijuana use on brain function and behavior

Photo by NIDA

Photo by NIDA

A study published in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging finds that "Young people with cannabis dependence have altered brain function that may be the source of emotional disturbances and increased psychosis risk …he alterations were most pronounced in people who started using cannabis at a young age." Read more.

See more NEWS about substance use, the developing teen brain, and One Choice.

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