the vulnerable teen brain
Beginning in the early teenage years and extending to the mid-20s, the human brain undergoes a period of great change. During this period many teens tend to take more risks, seek high pleasure activities, and exhibit poor judgement. These facts make teenagers at heightened risk for substance use.
In these MRI images of the developing brain, 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.
Importantly teens who use drugs and alcohol are more likely to develop substance use disorders in adulthood. Nine in 10 adults with substance use disorders — or 90% — began smoking, drinking or using drugs before age 18.
This fact is reflected in this figure showing that the majority of adults aged 18 to 30 who received treatment for substance use disorders first used alcohol or an illicit drug in their teenage years.
No use of any alcohol, nicotine, marijuana or other drugs for health.
For more on the developing teen brain, visit Teen-Safe.org to take a 15-minute course for parents from the Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research (CeASAR) at Children’s Hospital Boston that explains the effects of alcohol and drugs on the brain and gives science-based strategies for protecting adolescents from substance use.
Learn More about the Health Effects of Drugs
Medina, K. L., Hanson, K. L., Schweinsburg, A. D., Cohen-Zion, M., Nagel, B. J., & Tapert, S. F. (2007). Neuropsychological functioning in adolescent marijuana users: subtle deficits detectable after a month of abstinence. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society : JINS, 13(5), 807–820.
Hanson, K. L., Winward, J. L., Schweinsburg, A. D., Medina, K. L., Brown, S. A., & Tapert, S. F. (2010). Longitudinal study of cognition among adolescent marijuana users over three weeks of abstinence. Addictive behaviors, 35(11), 970–976.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2014, July 17). The TEDS Report: Age of Substance Use Initiation among Treatment Admissions Aged 18 to 30. Rockville, MD: Author.